The ruling All Progressives Congress, basking in the July 14, 2018 governorship election victory in Ekiti State asserts its claim to be the natural party of government in this country despite widespread discontent about its overall performance being felt in the country at large. This assertion will be proved right if, as expected, the party wins the forthcoming governorship election in Osun State and the presidential election next year. A “natural” party of government is one that connects with the innermost instincts of the electorate and manages to win elections despite a dip in its popularity. The one overriding and abiding commitment of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party is to stop this from happening, or it risks being shut out of power for a generation. But, before the APC gets too carried away, the Ekiti governorship election was unusual in many respects, not least because it was dominated by two forces personified by Ayo Fayose and Kayode Fayemi respectively. It was a gladiatorial contest between these two individuals, the likes of which have not been witnessed in this country since Ladoke Akintola and Obafemi Awolowo in the 1960s “Western Nigeria” politics.
The election was as intensely personal, as it was deeply polarising. Fayose, the outgoing governor of the state, though not on the ballot himself, was the de facto PDP candidate rather than his party’s official candidate, Prof. Kolapo Olusola. In the end, the APC torchbearer, Dr. Fayemi won; signalling an augury for some, and ominous repercussions for others across the wider political spectrum throughout the country. Above all, it was a personal validation for the “comeback kid” of Nigerian politics. How did it happen?
First, the Ekiti socio-political life is viewed within two prisms: agrarian and backward on the one hand, repository of wisdom and knowledge on the other hand. Upon becoming governor of the state for the first time in 2003, Fayose set about constructing and designing it in the image of the former, which, his political opponents (rightly or wrongly) say is a mirror-image of his person as well. He was keen to demonstrate his common touch with the people of the state by hobnobbing with union rabble rousers, “okada” riders, “area boys” and others, singing, dancing and eating “ofada” rice and “boole” (bore-lay; roasted plantain) with them. He was the ultimate local boy made good; the one who rose from rags to riches as it were. Social welfare consisted in spontaneous handouts to the needy and indigent local residents. For him, demagoguery was democracy by other means since neither he nor Ekiti people had the sophistication to understand or demand anything better. It worked, and Fayose became a local champion in the exulted seat of governor of the Kingdom of Ekiti State, where policy was made on the hoof, and everything reduced to the lowest common denominator.
On the other hand, when Fayemi became governor of the state in 2010, after a protracted court battle, he too set about reconstructing and redesigning the state in the latter image; intellectual sophistication, policy founded in debate and ideas, planning for the long term and basically leading by example. It is a shift in style and tone his friends saw as a manifestation of grown up politics, and his opponents saw as rather aloof and haughty. Promotion of best practice and performance indicators were key administrative tools for his government, for which he won plaudits in the liberal press and within his party hierarchy, but alienated the state’s civil servants and teachers in particular with his drive to rid the state of its “deadweight” and “sloppy” work force. The defeat that followed the conclusion of his first term in the seat of government to none other than Fayose, (who had won in the state for the second time), must have been galling for Fayemi who, until the last minute, had taken his re-election to a second term in office for granted. It was a bitter lesson that was to transform him from an idealistic “technocrat” to a full-blown, street-wise politician that he has now become. In a critical review of the governance style and substance that led to his defeat in 2014, see: “Ekiti people’s verdict: No more spreadsheet governance” (Sahara Reporters, July 11, 2014), I concluded the appraisal by saying: “Fayemi has a great political future ahead of him in this country. He and the APC hierarchy have a golden opportunity to re-learn the art of engagement with the electorate. He may be down for now, but only a fool would count him out”. And so it has proved.
Politicians who view Ekiti strictly from either of the prisms mentioned in this piece would be committing a grave error. Fayemi is not a “boole-eating” politician, and never will he profess to be one in my reckoning, but he has shown willingness and ability to mix it with anyone on the other side of the aisle, debate for debate, or if need be, fire for fire. His victory has also demonstrated that the so-called connection to the “grassroots” is overrated in our politics. His focus on organisation and strategy as opposed to reliance on foot soldiers over whom he has no direct control is a template others will surely like to copy in their own quest for power elsewhere. What he has managed to do this time round, is that he has been able to navigate his way between the extremes. In government, he must learn to keep his friends close, and his enemies even closer. As for Fayose, he had wanted to replicate the Lagos “consensus”, where, since former Governor Bola Tinubu’s departure from office (year)?, the position of governor has gone to his anointed candidate. Today, no one becomes Governor of Lagos State without Tinubu’s blessing. Fayose had wanted to project himself and Ekiti in the same mould, but has fallen short. Fayose is clearly no Tinubu by any stretch of the imagination.
Consequently, Fayose must now face the real prospect of being arrested and prosecuted for various crimes he is alleged to have committed, but which his current status as governor has shielded him from. My advice is he should stand and face his accusers like a man, and not hide away in a rabbit hole somewhere trembling in fear. If he can weather the initial storm of his arrest and arraignment, he has enough financial muscle to bring on a coterie of SANs capable of obfuscating and frustrating justice on his behalf. He must learn from the example of former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke, who, in an extraordinary move, is currently urging the EFCC in this country to demand her extradition from the UK to Nigeria in order to face trial here rather than being charged and tried in the UK. She knows the realistic prospect of being convicted in a court of law in the UK is rather high. On the contrary, leading public figures in this country very rarely if ever serve term in jail. Yes, it is true they get roughed up by the EFCC and other security agencies, charged for uncountable number of offences (over 100 sometimes), then, released on bail, stay quiet, keep a low profile, and gradually, the case is either dropped, reduced to a fine, or is permanently kept in abeyance.
Finally, though, the bigger and most critical lesson in the Ekiti election is the lesson of defeat. As a result of graciously accepting defeat in 2014, Fayemi sowed the seeds for his future political success and has come back a better and wily political operator. For now, he may have reached the farthest he can go in Ekiti State politics, only a fool would rule him out of reaching the pinnacle of political power in this country soon enough.