‘Ekiti people are my greatest asset’ – Fayemi

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THE NATION

‘Ekiti people are my greatest asset’

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Niyi Adesina and Bolade Omonijo, Lagos 11/11/2010 00:00:00

 EKITI State Governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi, in his maiden interview session with journalists, spoke about his long and torturous journey to the Government House, the lessons he learnt through the three-and-half years struggle and his plans for the young state. He also spoke on the dissolution of the local government councils in the state and the reaction of the House of Represntatives via a controversial resolution. Deputy Editor (News), Adeniyi Adesina and Group Political Editor, Bolade Omonijo were there

How are you settling down sir? 

I think that in life you must always know that there can be no gain without pain. I think that is the central lesson. However you may define it that people talk about my doggedness, about my tenacity, spirit of resistance and all that. All about that may be true, but it would be immodest on my part to place all of what happened on those values. I think that the greatest strength that got me going throughout the struggle was really the irrepressible nature of the Ekiti people and I was particularly lucky because I had no reason to pay people to go to court. They would go and be there by 6.30am, they would even tip the civil defence people if there are too many people inside the court so that they can just go in. They would do that, organise their own prayer sessions, they would go to the mountain top, everything. 

So when people talk about your courage, your boldness I say to them, did I really have a choice? Could I have walked away with this kind of support base that the people are championing? I think the lesson for me is that if you have the people really behind you, you can fight a thousand battles without looking back because you know that they will be there in defence of the truth. 

I also think that it is important to believe that once you are clear about the correctness of your position as an individual, there will be a lot of thorns on the way, there will be a lot of difficulties. There were days in the struggle that I could not boast of five thousand naira in my account and I had to depend on my wife for sorting out family challenges which is a problem we all face in everyday life. But the impression has been created that when you are in political struggle most especially in Nigeria, you must have some load of cash stashed away somewhere and all you do is just withdraw and then just throw it out. But, it was never like that. The people who were with me knew the kind of challenges we faced. The kind of difficulties we had to confront and how we managed to stay afloat in those difficult times. But I think that the most important thing is just be truthful to yourself and insist that anything that you cannot defend in public don’t just do it in private because the world is a small place and for this kind of struggle you are going to confront all sorts of contradictions. 

There were places people asked me to go to, there were all sorts of things. You know we are rural people, we are traditional even though we are well read and there are a number of things which happen in this kind of struggle which I know you can imagine. And if you are not a strong character it is possible for you to collapse under this kind of pressure. Those are the lessons that I draw and I leave it to others to draw up additional lessons. 

Why did you dissolve the councils? 

I came into this office on Monday morning after I was sworn in on Saturday. The first thing that I received on getting inside this office was a summon from the court brought in by my secretary and the summons was to appear in court in response to an interlocutory injunction to restrain me from dissolving local councils. I had never said anywhere that I was dissolving local councils, it did not appear anywhere in my speech. We had a case that had been in court for two years and you would recall that local government elections took place in this State December 15, 2008 and we had challenged the legality of the body that organised that election, that is the State Independent Electoral Commission and that matter because it was in a state court had dragged and dragged without any resolution. We then went and filed another case. But those two cases were not about dissolution, they were cases about the period of notice for the election which was 150 days between the time you announce and the time the election takes place and then, the constitution of the electoral commission. Off course, since that case was filed, we had had judgment in Osun up till the Court of Appeal making it clear that our position was the correct position in law. That case is still subsisting in the Supreme Court now. 

So, this case came before a Judge on Friday October 20, 2010 and by the time they got to court, somehow, maybe somebody advised them or something happened they had realised that they were suing Kayode Fayemi and not the Governor of Ekiti State because that was the person they filed the case against. So, they decided that they were withdrawing their case and the Judge struck out the case. You could say that we could have left the situation like that, but then we heard and then security agencies were also keeping us abreast of developments that had started in the various local governments, about looting of government property, about the removal of government vehicles into private places and I thought that it would be irresponsible on our part to have just pretended that we didn’t know what was going on. 

It was clear to us that the agenda was to provoke us into ignoring them, that you know that Kayode Fayemi is a kind person, he had said that he was not into witch-hunting, he is not after reprisals. Yes, I am not after reprisals but the truth of the matter is that any baby lawyer will tell you that you cannot put something on nothing. The government that organised the election that brought the local government chairmen had been declared a none existing government in this State. Not just for the 2009 election re-run, but also for the 2007 original election because the court of appeal said “you (Segun Oni) did not win both elections and your certificate of return should be withdrawn.” 

So, if we want to take it on that general line whose councils were these? And we felt we needed to take a decisive step in that direction. If the courts say that we are wrong, I have said that I will never do anything that will undermine the rule of law. I came on the back of the rule of law and it only stands to reason that I will not do anything that will put the rule of law in any jeopardy and that is the position I continue to hold. 

One of the reasons that we have not put transition or caretaker committees in place is to ensure that the matter that is before the court is quickly disposed off and we said that the most senior civil servants in the local governments should take over. So all the grandstanding about going to the House of Representatives to get some accountant general and the IG to arrest or ignore or block our local government funds…I mean any sensible person would know that there is no way that is going to fly any where. I saw the Accountant-General yesterday (last Thursday) and asked him when are you going to stop our local government allocation and the man smiled that nobody has told me anything! 

It is serious business, we should not be using the hallowed chambers of our legislature to conduct this kind of kangaroo thing and I am glad that the Senate made it clear that they were not going to be part of this rubbish which off course renders irrelevant what transpired in the House of Representatives because as the Senate said, the subsisting law is that the House of Assembly in the State is the body that is in charge of local governments. So, if the House of Assembly refuses to ratify what we have done, fine. We will go back to where we were before but if they do nobody in Abuja can do anything about it. Off course you know of the Supreme Court position on this matter. 

Now does that mean that several actions taken by your predecessor including the budgets and such like are they now nullities? 

In law and I think I should know I have spent three and a half years in court back and forth even though I am not a lawyer….In law you know what we call doctrine of necessity, doctrine of necessity does not necessarily make what is illegal legal. All it does is allow in a manner of convention certain things that are irreversible and that is my simple answer to your question. Yes, I cannot reverse budgets that have been implemented but that does not make them right! 

Are you going to cut down on the machinery of government?

Absolutely right one of the most bizarre findings that have been coming out of our ministerial briefing relates to this. We had in a small state like this under the last administration 21 commissioners and 14 Special Advisers of cabinet rank with all the apparatus of office and one of the bizarre ways in which they did it was to have Ministry of Youth, Sports and Social Development which would be the normal way it is done in other places, but (what was done) was to have Ministry of Youths as a ministry, Ministry of Sports and then Ministry of Social Development so you have three ministries in one and you have three commissioners and three permanent secretaries, and on and on like that. 

So, you had a situation where the recurrent expenditure in this State was almost reaching 70:30 ratio, in fact it was the other way round from what Chief Awolowo said. And that is why you have this State dotted all over with the highest number of abandoned projects, roads other infrastructure, you name it. Even the existing ones are in total shambles. 

I have not moved into Government Lodge because the place I am supposed to live is leaking. Where my illegal predecessor stayed is leaking, his bedroom. That is a fact. 

He wasn’t living there? 

He was living there and the same thing happened at our lodge in Abuja. So, I began to wonder maybe it was a deliberate strategy for his bedroom to leak because I couldn’t understand it. Simple things that should be fixed and that is across the length and breadth of the state. So, we have got to do something about that. 

I will go on record and tell you some of the specific things we will do. We will not have more than the constitutional requirements and it is also because that is what the constitution requires. We must have a commissioner or a cabinet rank person from all local governments. So we wont have more than that 16 because we have 16 local governments here. It is the requirement of the law and we cant do anything about that. We will run a very lean government. 

If you don’t have a role in government we will find you something if you think you have contributed and there are debts to pay in politics. So I am not going to sit before you and tell you that those who have been with me in this journey for three and half years are not going to make demands. I am dealing with demands as I sit here. Local governments and communities are struggling over positions and Ekiti is small and we go by what you call zoning. Not zoning of the kind that you are dealing with in Abuja but here we have our own peculiar zoning. If House of Assembly comes from here, commissioner cannot come from there. If commissioner comes from there, Special Assistant must go to another community in that local government. If it is a one town local government they share it ward by ward. Those are the practical details of politics but we will try and strike a balance between fulfilling those demands of politics and ensuring effective and efficient government structure. 

So, I totally agree with you that we must reduce the cost of governance significantly. 

Where are you going to find the money to fund the programmes you have promised like free education and free health care? 

We are promising free education in the last three years of secondary school because the first nine years are already free. That is what the UBE scheme is all about. It is providing textbooks, money for NECO, WASCE exams and providing the tools. We have promised computers for students in the higher secondary school level. I don’t think that in a State where you have 188 senior secondary schools that that is such a huge task to achieve and 41,000 secondary school pupils. Even if we were to spend N10,000 per term on each secondary school kid, that is N40 million and N120 million in a year. We may not have that much money but if that is our priority… On top of that as part of my negotiation we are getting $60 million from the World Bank for education alone and we would probably get more from other development agencies. 

If you go to health what are we promising? We are promising free healthcare for under fives, for pregnant women, for old age people and for the disabled. If we have an effective primary healthcare system and if we focus our resources on that and we have no apologies that that is what we are going to do. We are not interested in building eye clinics because we know that the percentage of our people that are suffering from eye problems they don’t come anyway near those that suffer from the opportunistic diseases that kill people. It is about priority setting and if you get your priorities right, it will be possible for you to raise the resources as long as you are focused and I am convinced that we can raise the resources for what we need and also cut waste as much as possible. 

The whole question of workers that are really not workers (ghost workers) is a big challenge to government. We have made it clear to the civil servants that we would introduce a biometric ID card system for them and nobody takes a cheque again from us. You would have to get your money in your bank account, it is not going to be paid to you through any other means and that way we can really figure out who the workers are from those who claim to be the workers in the state. There is a lot of atrocity, a lot of racket that people run that must be corrected in that respect. 

I think the only area where I see us investing heavily beyond routine is infrastructure and one of the things that we are putting in place is a bond strategy because that way we can borrow at a very low interest rate and still achieve our objectives over the long time. Our infrastructure projects are likely to be supported through a financial syndicated package that would enable us to have these things in place and pay for them over a long period of time. 

Is the $60 million from the World Bank a loan, grant or what? 

The World Bank gives you a loan that looks more like a grant. A loan of 1 per cent  pay back is almost a grant and that is what they are doing for us in education. They were already engaged in the state it is just they were not that engaged at that high level but now they feel maybe a bit more comforted to come and support what is going on here. 

  Are you hoping to sustain the plans for three universities funded by the state government? 

  I am tempted not to say anything about that. We have promised a stakeholders summit on education towards the end of this month. I have just held a whole day’s session with the vice-chancellors of the three universities asking them to give me their own sense of direction, how do they think the state should go given the resources available to the state. They all came up with interesting insights that I think will be useful for such a multi-stakeholder summit on education. 

I cant tell you that this is how we are going to tackle that problem. All I can say to you is that this state does not have the resources to maintain three universities. How we resolve it will be clearer to us when all the stakeholders come together to examine the situation critically. The resources are just not there for three universities that are within a distance of about 15 kilometers to each other, Ikere, Ado, Ifaki. 

 How are you hoping to manage the relationship with former Lagos State Governor, Senator Bola Tinubu given the insinuation that you are expected to pay back his contribution to your victory? 

  Suffice to say that Asiwaju Tinubu is an undeniable colossus in Nigeria’s politics. He is a leader of my party, I am proud of my relationship with him but those who know me know that I also have a mind of my own and they know that Asiwaju does not generally go for yes people around him. Whether you look at his cabinet or those who he associates with, I don’t think he is one person who indulges in promoting sycophantic relationships. 

I will certainly go to him for a lot of advice, he’s been a Governor, I have never been a Governor before now so he would have advice to give me, he would have insights into issues. He is also very astute politically and has a lot of experience on how to handle funny or difficult situations. So, I wont hesitate to go to him just as I wont hesitate to go to Governor Olumiyuwa or Governor Adebayo or even the stormy petrel, Governor Fayose. He sat here before so he probably knew one or two things that he did wrong that he would be able to advice me, “don’t go down that route, I did and I made a terrible mistake of it.” 

So for me, I have no repository of knowledge, I don’t have all the answers to the challenges that we face here in Ekiti and I certainly will not pretend that I got here on a single handed journey. No I didn’t. I got here with the support of a lot of people and I stand on the shoulders of elders and people who are wiser than I am. I also know that at the end of the day if anything goes wrong with this government nobody is going to blame Tinubu, nobody is going to shout the name of Fayose or Adebayo, they will say Fayemi’s government. That is the bottom line and that is how I want us to see it and I know that some of these things are attractive in the media but I don’t think it is something that will create a crisis. 

How are you also going to deal with Governor Fayose considering his past tenure in office? 

What I will tell you is that I have a great deal of respect for former Governor Ayo Fayose. He was a former Governor in this state and I happen to be in a unique position. I am the only person who has ever been in office in this state who has the support of all the elected former Governors in this state. No other person has ever sat down here with the support of all the elected former Governors of this state. No other person has ever sat down here with the support of all the other elected Governors of this state. So, to that extent I have to navigate labyrinthine maze because even all the former elected Governors that are in my support they are not necessarily the best of chums on their own part, but they all support me. That makes me a bridge builder of sorts because they all come to this office, they meet here not necessarily because they like to see each other in this same space but they are all supporting someone who has brought them together and if that is the role that God has assigned to me in Ekiti State, it is a very critical role. We are a very, very frank people. Very robust in our disagreements when we do and then we do have a reputation for cantankerousness out there even though we are not necessarily cantankerous but people do think that we are just a difficult people. I don’t agree with that. If I am opportune to play some kind of healing among the contending forces, then that is significant for Ekiti now because we have had too long a period of negativity and it is time that we need to begin to heal as much as we can. 

What philosophy will govern the choice of your cabinet members? 

You have to have more than just being a politician to occupy those positions such as education, health, infrastructure, agriculture. You must bring something on top of being a politician to be in those positions. 

What is your stance on the fuss over the chairmanship of the Governor’s Forum? 

We felt insulted by what happened and the ACN caucus even though we are a minority, we are only three at the Governors Forum, we argued passionately for a process and a procedure for succession in the Governors Forum which was why they put one of us in the chair of drafting the procedures for that. It is not a PDP Governors Forum, it is a Nigerian Governors Forum. 

In all fairness to Gbenga Daniel we discovered that he wasn’t really pushing for it, it was foisted on him by those who had an agenda that was not necessarily an agenda for the Governors Forum. 

You observed the last election in Ghana. What is your assessment of the capacity of Prof. Jega to conduct a free and fair poll in that direction? 

What we saw in Ghana made many of us shed tears because we felt there is no reason why we cannot replicate same or even do better and I am reasonably convinced that inspite of the challenges he has encountered that Attahiru Jega is committed to ensuring a similar process. 

Nigeria is a much more complex society but I don’t think one can doubt his integrity. What I have always said that integrity in itself is not always enough to guarantee a credible electoral process. 

As a victim, Iwu played a critical role in my electoral theft but Iwu never visited Ekiti to do it. There are proxies who did it here. So, Jega can have all the integrity in the world if he does not put systems and processes in place to ensure that these things also ramify down the ladder, down the hierarchy we are going to end up in the same charade in 2011.

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