Far from being an aberration, the shock defeat of Governor Kayode Fayemi in the recent Ekiti Gubernatorial election is a salutary lesson in an approach to governance typical of ACN/APC administrations in the South-West, Edo-State included.
This piece offers a viewpoint as to why Fayemi, against all expectations, went through such a crushing defeat; losing in all sixteen local government areas of the state, even getting a kick in the teeth in his own ward! This is an objective assessment from my own vantage point as an academic and a participant in the electoral process. But, first, a little declaration of interest is in order. I knew Governor Fayemi very well; he was my publicity secretary as Chair of the ‘New Nigeria Forum’ during the pro-democracy years of struggle in London. His wife, Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi (as she was then known) was also a vibrant member of the Forum’s executive at the time. That said, I have not spoken to, or met either of them in over fifteen years. What I am offering here, therefore, is a dispassionate, no-strings-attached; no holds barred account of what I believe went so horribly wrong for APC in this pivotal state, and how that might be avoided in future elections.
The arrival of Fayemi in the Ekiti government house four years ago marked the beginning of what many thought would be a breath of fresh air in democratic governance in the previously troubled state governed by an administration of mediocre talents at best. With his coterie of super-smart advisors and assisted by his erudite wife, Fayemi was finally going to clean up the Augean stables with an un-paralleled technocratic fervour and vitality. The ground was also finally made for him to burst the old taboo of an academic occupying the seat of power in Nigeria. Lest anyone forget, Fayemi had also been a tireless pro-democracy crusader and had walked the corridors of power in this country and elsewhere as a highly connected individual for several years as he was carefully charting the way to come “out of the shadows”.
It was all these that created the euphoria around his ascension to the governor’s lodge in Ekiti. Subsequently, his hands-on approach to government administration during the first six months in office quickly confirmed his status as a demi-god in the eyes of his staff and close admirers. This was going to be an all-performing, invincible and impeccable action man. He neither originated the hype that was later built up to stratospheric heights around his person, nor did he do anything to dissuade people from believing it. It was clear by then that the only way left for him to go would be down, and he was determined not to let that happen.
Consequently, the governor went to work; prioritising his workload as a busy governor should, setting up panels, performance indicators, yardsticks and benchmarks, in short, hitting the ground running. His “8-point agenda” at some point took on a messianic zest. The vision became the transformation of the state for the foreseeable future; for the generations yet unborn. The state became Fayemi’s laboratory for a special kind of social engineering and revival. Roads were not only to be built, but were counted and measured for precision. Education was conceived (wrongly in my view) as the state’s “oil”.
Yes, the state is graduating a large proportion of its population, but it has no direct economic advantage to the community. The graduates and the professionals do not stay and work in the society that produces them; they take a flight from it at the earliest opportunity and many never return, not even in retirement. The people are generally well educated but they remain largely agrarian, insular and not well disposed to new ideas. This is a crucial point that was palpably lost on Fayemi’s administration as he embarked upon his ‘value for money’ policy initiatives. One such initiative was the forcible re-orientation of teachers in an attempt to clear out the dead woods amongst them. The other ones were his bold attempt at tackling inertia in the civil service, and trimming the bulging local government allocations. These three are, unfortunately, sacred cows in the community; the lifeblood of the people’s being. If they were to be reformed, it ought to be done with the panache and deft touch of a wily political operator.
Sadly, the people saw his reform agenda in these areas as an existential threat to them and vowed to be rid of him come rain or shine. This, it has to be said, has nothing to do with any love lust for his main challenger, now governor-elect, Ayo Fayose. By focusing his undiluted attention on the state’s purse strings at the expense of maintaining a feeling for the pulse of the electorate, Fayemi literally signed the death warrant of his own administration long before the day of the election.
In terms of governor Fayemi’s personal handling of his administration and the numerous completed projects up and down the state, he has rightly received plaudits for them, but mainly in the media associated with the Lagos-Ibadan and Abuja metropolitan elites. With his penchant for performance measurement and slide rules, he ran the state as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of a large Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), rather than the CEO of a virulent and complex state with many competing interests to assuage, egos to massage and banana skins to avoid. “Judge me on my performance” was his mantra going into the election. He went to the electorate like the CEO of an NGO re-applying for its funding for another four years and offering up a colourful “compendium of JKF administration” for scrutiny. For a start, what on earth is the meaning of a “compendium” to the average Ekiti person? The dossier (a jam and Jerusalem treatise), is emblematic of his perceived detachment from reality.
Rendering the account of an elected government is not the same as rendering the account of an NGO. The skills-set needed for the two are fundamentally different. In this wise, Fayemi was badly let down by his closest advisers, who must take their share of responsibility for the defeat. The immediate task ahead of him though, is handing over to the governor-elect, who is having a belly laugh now at the expense of the electorate, who will soon pick up the tab for his victory. Fayose would also delight in probing the administration of his predecessor for his ‘waste’ and ‘extravagant’ use of the state’s resources and ‘saddling’ the poor state with a large amount of debt. This will happen soon enough, so, Fayemi had better be prepared for a robust defence of his administration in the court of public opinion as any such probes would be a mere theatrical display of comeuppance to Fayemi and all the ‘book people’ that advised him. 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.
Dr. Oke is a Senior Lecturer in the College of Social and Management Sciences, Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.