Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State last October marked his two years in office. In this interview, Fayemi reflects on the challenges of the 24 months as the chief helmsman of his state. He also speaks on his endorsement for second term by his party, Action Congress of Nigeria(ACN), based on the mid term report of his administration.
On regional integration being championed by his party in the South-West, the governor says the ongoing constitution review ought to emphasise the needs that strengthen us as a nation. Though it was a chance meeting, the interview is still revealing.
Two years on, what would you say you’ve seen so far that are markedly different from what you’d expected as challenges of governance?
Well, substantially, there has not been anything that we are grappling with that are not your day- to- day issues that anyone in government is not grappling with. I think it is the clarity of your vision and the programmatic approach that determines what you’re able to do.
The only areas I can say things have not turned out to be what I expected are in the areas of timing and sequencing. There are things that you have as your agenda that have image relevance. But, as you know, change is difficult. You need to sometimes shift the timing of your actions because of the reactions on the ground; sometimes you need to build a consensus around a particular issue but which is not in tandem with your vision because you want to hit the ground running and, by the time you build the consensus around that issue, it may not fit into your plan.
But because we were clear and we had enough time to plan, we’ve been able to execute our agenda within the time frame.
So, where are you now two years after?
In terms of where we are, we are not in any way removed from the time- table we set for ourselves because we’ve met our targets on those issues that are very critical to us and we’re moving apace with the level of development we would like to see albeit slower in some areas and on time and on target in other areas….
And in some areas you are seen as being combative
Of course and in some areas meeting the challenges of building consensus.
Yes that is a major challenge – consensus building because when you have many people, it is not easy pulling in one direction and there are times you ask yourself if it is worth it banging my head against the wall and the people you’re doing it for sometimes do not appreciate. But as a historian and a student of philosophy, you can even be a detractor of what is good for you because of ignorance.
No government can do development to the people; you only do development with the people because if you don’t do it with the people, you cannot get the result you want.
Therefore, you need a collective approach that everybody buys into.
We can build a state that can succeed for the pride of all of us but, in politics, what is good for Governor Fayemi may make us look bad; so we refuse to see anything good in his government.
How have you been able to balance your vision for the people and the expectations of a people who have become so used to a leadership that cannot be trusted?
Your question is very very critical. The theme around our second year celebration relates to that question and it is about reclaiming the trust of the people because governments come and go and have failed to deliver. In our own case, we made promises that appeared very utopian; so it even made it more difficult for them to believe that we could deliver.
We promised social security (which had never been done before in this country); we promised that we were going to put a laptop on the desk of every secondary school students; we promised that all roads in the state would be very motorable.
When we came in and they really started seeing that these things were being done, the trust of the people increased; and even when some of those things appeared far-fetched, people began to believe that Fayemi would not say what he’s not going to do and that is the essence of governance – fulfillment of the social contract within the limited resources.
Where challenges occur, you level with the people immediately and explain to them what the challenges are.
One of the basic thrusts of my work this year is to increase the level of community empowerment because the feedback we’re getting is that “we like what you’re doing with our roads, schools and hospitals and the new look of the state capital, but we think you must balance physical development with human development and we want more direct empowerment of the populace”.
But how do you relate with a populace that has developed and is very comfortable with a culture of entitlement?
Good. We are dealing with a populace that has huge (some unrealistic) expectations from government and sees government as that institution that should dole money out. But it is supposed to be an institution that should engender an atmosphere that would allow for that creativity in every individual to blossom.
For a social democratic party, this issue with labour continues to dog your administration. In tackling the challenge, some people believe that there could have been a better approach to the labour-related issues. The question now is, how do you manage a process that has your vision, expectations of the people as well as their demands which are sometimes not in sync?
Fair question! You can always manage any process better.
Upon reflection, there are things we could have done differently to achieve the same objective of improving the quality of teachers in the state. But there are also things that we have done clearly well. I’m not excusing government. My attitude is communication, engagement and empowerment and to ensure that those who would be the beneficiary of any process take hold of it (that is the essence of governance) but let’s stick to the facts.
What are the facts?
We are saying to labour that it is in the interest of labour as a body to protect those who are legitimate workers and to get rid of those who are illegitimate, who are ghost workers taking advantage of the system to the detriment of the legitimate workers who we expect a level of productivity from.
That is the crux of the issue with the local government workers; we insist on knowing the number of legitimate workers. Mind you, we have no problem with minimum wage but we do not want to pay those who are not workers and we expect labour to be the champion of that.
It’s best to put some people in the local government system in places where they would be able to advance their careers – like teachers, health workers an co – instead of keeping them to stagnate on levels that would not advance their careers; and we’re saying go to places where your certificates would be deemed appropriate for promotion, career enhancement and improving their sense of self- worth. That is all. Thankfully, that is being successfully handled.
What about the teachers’ crisis?
I grew up in Ekiti and I know we had teachers with good quality.
The education summit we organized when we came to office made recommendations.
We’ve refurbished, we’ve rebuilt and we’ve renovated all schools in Ekiti within our first two years.
We have provided the first 33,000 computers we promised and another18,000 on soft loans for teachers – in addition to the 33,000 for the students. We have 100,000 students in our secondary schools. Our promise during campaigns was that by 2014, we would have put a solar-powered laptop on the desks of all our students.
We have also increased the grant that goes to every school per child and teachers are not owed any salaries in the state.
Therefore, we have a legitimate right to demand of teachers – because if we do all these and the teachers for which we have done all these are not in sync with our agenda, it would be bandage on bullet wounds. We’re not doing well in Ekiti because we cannot be a state where 16% of students we present for WASCE pass only five credits. We have a history and if 70% pass we would be deemed to just be getting there.
When we discovered that this was a problem not just of students, parents or government but of teachers, we had to do something. We’re not saying teachers are no good. It is just a specific request that we assess where the gaps are and let us help them to become better teachers through regular capacity building programmes and regular assessment of your ability to teach.
They have come to that realization but we are also dealing with a recalcitrant institution that is sometimes easy to take advantage of by those who have their own agenda but we must continue to engage because we want to produce better students who have careers in future that would help them escape a life of indolence and violence.
You get N2.5billion every month from the federally allocated revenue. How do you strike a balance between recurrent expenditure and the need to deliver on campaign promises?
Huge disparity between salaries you pay every month and what is left for development. To me, my attitude has always been the need to fulfill my pledges to my people and those pledges are not just recurrent. Although, the people who benefit from the recurrent expenditure are the most vocal and vociferous; in terms of population figures, they are very tiny and I have not allowed that to deter me.
Our central programme permeates every family – social security, education, health infrastructure, the voluntary employment programme, rural electrification –they are the things that help create wealth. The money that is spent by those workers circulate within Ekiti State and helps to develop the state. However, what you hear from civil servants which is derisive is that we are the priority because “Ekiti is a civil service state”.
It is a derisory remark because I don’t want Ekiti to be a civil service state but a wealth creating state and how do you create wealth if the money goes into recurrent and not security or investment? On tourism, security, agriculture and so on, those are the things I’m putting money to without ignoring the civil servants but the greater challenge is that we cannot sustain that over a long time.
Less than 100,000 people cannot take 90% of the resources and yet we expect development.
We must re-order our priorities such that those in the concretely productive sector of the economy, which is agriculture, receive adequate incentive from government so as to create a sustainable economy.
Your party is spear-heading this integration policy in development but some people have doubts. In the long run, how do you see the process being managed for effectiveness.
Regional integration is a development paradigm that we have engaged and that does not mean that people should lose their identity. And there is an economy of scale that can emerge from that collaboration.
There are issues peculiar to Lagos (because of its nature) which are not available in Ekiti or Osun. But there are lessons we can learn for collaborative purposes.
In the area of having a common agriculture policy, or a transportation hub by rail, or a common university framework and curriculum, there is no competition over that and, as a matter of fact, we have a template – the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria, DAWN – which explains the mode of engagement for collaboration.
In the agriculture sector, for instance, the bulk of the food that comes down here is from the North and because of the issues of insecurity and the challenges faced by farmers in the North, certain things are now scarce in the market and we came to the conclusion that we can do better down here because the market here is a N3billion a day market.
Lagos is being encouraged to take land in the sister states for agricultural purposes and work is going on in that direction – in fact Lagos has applied for land from all of us. Maybe we should pay more attention to the symbolic things that can give form rather that substance so that people would know that it is not just about lip service.
What about the institutional and structural aspects of this paradigm because the constitution of Nigeria poses its own challenge?
You are absolutely right because we cannot do this in isolation.
If you have a constitution and a central government that undermines your process of integration….. It is not just the South West alone; the other zones too have their issues and it is an idea whose time has come and all we need to do is put practical markers on the ground for people to see.
Realistically, do you see this constitution being amended to accommodate the needs we’ve just discussed?
The needs we just talked about are Nigerian needs and they are needs which should strengthen our bond as a nation but the reality is that change would not be wholesale but incremental.
We are not going to get everything we want wholesale.
Your party surprised many; some were even shocked when it declared that you would be presented for the 2014 election. For a party which prides itself as being well steeped in democratic ethos, that sends a wrong signal. Why the hastiness?
We are just in mid term and we still have a lot of work to do. I’m concentrating on the work at hand. You can direct the question to the party but the party has its own ways of doing things. The party has not and did not by any means foreclose any race. The party said based on the evidence before it just two years into the administration, it is happy with the work its candidate has done.
There are rules and those who may have an interest to run for governorship on the platform of the party have not been barred from contesting. There is a process that would be followed and I’m sure you have not heard me anywhere talk about second term.
It is the work of our administration that the people will use to determine the votes we would get and I can assure you that the votes would be bipartisan.
Those who would vote for us would on their own see that we have delivered and it would cut across party lines because what we are delivering is for every son and daughter of Ekiti State.
We have said that this year would be a year of empowerment. The challenge is to turn a rural economy into a modern economy and we know that the opportunities are limitless for us.
Our people have seen evidence of delivery but we are determined to do more transparently.