Interviews

In Times of Crisis, It’s Rescue Before Ideology, Says Fayemi

Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, speaks to Olawale Olaleye on some of the developments that presently define the state of the nation. Excerpts:
 
 
What is the implication of the defection of the five PDP to your party, the APC recently?
I believe that the realignment of forces is going to deepen our democratic experience. Of course, chieftains of the PDP will try to play down the impact of this seismic shift and even dismiss it as a storm in the teacup.  However, those who have trained eyes to read the tea-leaves accurately know that it is a game-changer.  This is not an exaggeration. There are those who will argue, you know, that the difference is between six and half-a-dozen because in their view all parties are the same; there is no difference, otherwise how can people move from one party to the other in this seamless manner? In my humble opinion, that will be a misreading of the developments within the PDP.
 
 
I have consistently argued that the PDP is not a monolith; there are progressive politicians in PDP just as there are reactionary politicians in the PDP. My friend, Professor Julius Ihonvbere, was a leading light of PDP in Edo State and he is a radical, progressive intellectual. For many like Julius, the PDP was the only game in their state by the time they got into partisan politics and rather than start from scratch, it was safer to keep up with the Joneses. The only problem with the PDP in the last 14 years is the overwhelming dominance of reactionary survival of the fittest- end justifies the means politicians- who have no notion of public good and only believe in primitive accumulation to the detriment of the majority.
 
 
Although the APC is also not a monolith, in the sense that there are conservative elements in APC, there are radical elements and also moderates in APC; the dominant tendency is the progressive tendency that is radical, people oriented and public spirited in the true sense of social democracy. The issue, for us, is therefore what the dominant tendency is: And that is where progressivism comes into the entire picture. Do the people who are the leading lights in the party believe in social justice for the protection of the weak and vulnerable in the society or do they believe in social darwinism of the survival of the fittest genre? 
 
 
Indeed, I make this point in my new book, Regaining the Legacy, that while PDP for the last 14 years has embraced the supply side economics in accord with the dictates of the Washington consensus which empowers the moneyed elite in the hope that the humongous and inexplicable wealth that come to them will trickle down to the rest of society and this has clearly failed, we have embraced a more grassroots model of economic development with a focus on good social services, social safety nets, modern functional education that can provide decent jobs, improve infrastructure, revive moribund industries and promote the knowledge economy.
 
But where is ideology in all of this?
We in APC see government as a catalyst for development, not a bystander that seeks to sell off all public goods like our friends on the other side. We do not believe that everything public is bad and that everything private is good. So when I see people argue that what has happened with the G5 move to APC is a death knell for ideology in politics, I consider such an argument intellectually lazy. When a country is in crisis, rescuing the country is the priority, not a fixation on sterile, ideological puritanism. And the world is replete with examples.
 
 
When Britain was in crisis in the mid-1940s during and in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, Clement Attley of the Labour Party worked with Winston Churchill of the Conservative Party in the coalition government to rescue Britain from the onslaught of Adolf Hitler. Today in Germany, Angela Merkel is in a grand coalition with the Social Democrats. Also in Britain, Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats is the Deputy Prime Minister of Britain working with David Cameron who is Conservative. Yet, the Liberal Democrats are even more extreme to the left of Labour on certain policy issues like the environment for example but what matters to them is the country first. In Israel today, no single political party has managed to form government in the last twenty years. And even the ideologically bitter opponents – Likud and Labour have had cause to form coalition governments in the recent past.
 
 
Our country is in crisis, we may not like ourselves, but we have a duty to work together and there is no point exaggerating the importance of ideology in a collapsing country. In any case, ideology is no dogma, it is a conceptual framework that helps one address the challenges of society, but in a society that has completely gone to the dogs, you first need to bring it back to stability before you get to the notion of what perspective you follow to reorganise our society.
 
 
In the world today, the ideological lines have blurred. New Labour under Tony Blair stole the Conservatives’ cloth in order to win over the middle ground in the UK.  Even Margaret Thatcher, the most right wing of conservatives, could not get rid of social security and National Health Service much as she tried. In fact, the British Rail was re-nationalised after the initial privatisation fiasco under Thatcher. Even look at the United States today- the one Republican that is seen as likely to give the Democrats a run for their money in the next presidential race is Chris Christie, the Governor of New Jersey and the reason is simple: he is seen as socially liberal and a fiscal conservative. So, he is popular even with some Democrats and wins election overwhelmingly in a democratic state. So, when you do this analysis, people should know that ideology is also not in cast iron cages as it used to be in the cold war days.
 
How do you relate this to the five PDP governors?
Now let me come to these five governors that have come to the APC so far. I just came back from Sokoto and I have not been there in the last three years before this last visit. I have been to Kano, just a month ago; I have been to Rivers State and I have been to Jigawa; these are governors that are running social democratic programmes. What I see Rotimi Amechi do is not different from what we are doing in Ekiti in terms of infrastructure, education, healthcare, agriculture and transparency in governance. I know what Port Harcourt was like before Amaechi came to power. The difference, without prejudice to his predecessors, is clear. Go to Kano and see what Kwankwaso is doing. Of course, he used to be an SDP chieftain in this country; a former Deputy Speaker in the House of Representatives in the Third Republic, he clearly has progressive inclinations of lifting up the weak and the vulnerable. Go and see the unique work he is doing with micro finance among the women.
 
 
Are you saying this is a marriage of the progressives in the PDP and the APC?
This is exactly what our own sage, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo said in 1983 'that at a time in the near future, you will get the thesis and anti-thesis resulting in a synthesis of progressive politics in Nigeria'. There are people who will give it different interpretations but I know that if you want to be spiritual, you will say God loves this country by at least giving us this chance to pull back from the brink.
 
 
Any democracy that does not possess the likelihood for an alternation of power is nothing short of an elected dictatorship. In elementary political science class, what we say is that a country is not democratic until it has experienced alternation of power. The reason why people see Ghana and Senegal as more democratic than Nigeria, Zimbabwe and even South Africa is this. It is when you’ve secured this first level of democratisation that you then begin to examine the character, quality and content of the democracy a lot more closely.
What therefore is the difference between APC and PDP?
 
 
This is precisely what I am telling you. There is a world of difference. There are those who will like to give an impression that this is all about power grabbing. The truth is that you can have all the ideas in the world but if you are not in the seat of power you cannot implement these ideas. Yes, we are interested in power but not power for its own sake. We are interested in power to make a fundamental difference in the lives of our people. And all you need to do and we don't need to be romantic about it, look at the states we govern; that is the only template that is available now. If you say they can talk, go to the states that we run and compare us with others outside our fold.
 
 
There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. I am the first to admit that, but on average, even with the resource differentials, what you see in Lagos is what you will find in Edo, in Ekiti, Ogun, Oyo, Imo and Osun and even in security challenged Borno and Yobe in terms of putting the people first. The common thread is that we are people-focused, socially democratic and economically prudent.
 
There is a more fundamental slant to this struggle which is the fact that these PDP governors are seen as fighting a very personal battle against the president and the PDP. How do you situate this within the context of your argument of progressivism?
 
 
Well, I don't want to get into what led to this because I’m not a member of the PDP, but in politics, the only thing that is permanent is interest. With the kind of personalities that joined APC, I doubt if this is simply borne out of personal animosity. I have at least heard and read Amaechi express personal affinity and respect for the President. I have tremendous respect for President Goodluck Jonathan, I relate very well with him even though I’m not a member of his party. I have very good friends in the PDP and I look forward to the day when we will play politics of issues and stop reducing everything that happens to politics of personalities. We can disagree without becoming enemies.
 
 
I disagree fundamentally with the policy thrust of the Jonathan administration in many respects, but I actually like the president. He is a decent, humble person to the best of my knowledge. I have no problem with him, but we are talking about the future of 170 million people. Being decent and humble is not going to be enough. With the greatest respect, it is about fixing a country drifting to the precipice, and you cannot pull the country back from the brink simply by being decent, likeable and nice.
 
 
For example, any government that cannot protect its source of revenue has a serious problem. The constitution of this country is very clear. The directive principle of the constitution says the welfare and the security of the citizens of Nigeria shall be the first business of government. Then government comes to us and says the reason we are failing in our financial obligations to the Federation Account is because some people are stealing the oil, in a country that has a professional armed forces! On top of that, you then outsource the security of pipelines to erstwhile militants, yet hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil is being stolen. Are they telling us this is being stolen in jerry cans? Do they think we are fools? We really should cover our faces in shame.
 
 
If you run a country where you cannot protect your main source of income, something is clearly amiss. I like President Jonathan, but I fundamentally disagree with the current governance framework. I don't have any personal issues to grind with anybody and I don't know if anyone has with me. The Governors that are coming over to APC are not necessarily my friends, but we agree that Nigeria needs to be rescued at this critical period and I am glad that during their press conference, the reason they gave for coming on board the APC train is that they believe Nigeria must be rescued from the crisis staring us all in the face.
 
 
Have you pondered the fact that these PDP governors may also not share APC’s idea of internal democracy?
Well, we have already said that any governor coming into the party will be entitled to all the rights and privileges enjoyed by the current APC Governors – generally speaking.  But of course, there are local dynamics to be taken into account in each state – and certainly in some states more than others. So, I really I don't know what you mean by sharing our idea of internal democracy. Every right thinking Nigerian who loves this country, regardless of whether they are in APC or PDP should be happy that at last, we have a political system that is now fairly balanced. That is good for Nigeria. It was not something that was forced on the New PDP leaders.
 
 
They consciously decided to come on board. Much more importantly, we must do everything humanly possible and constitutionally appropriate to win the confidence of Nigerians. Nigerians have consistently worried that the opposition has not got its acts together. None of us wants to permanently be in opposition, sniping on the fringes and complaining all the time about what is wrong with the government despite the ideas that I have. I want to be involved in fixing whatever the problems are and if I am fixing it at the local level in my state. I want my party to have the opportunity to do it at the national level.
 
 
Now that we are almost equal, 18 states on their side and 16 states on our side at least for now, we have the golden opportunity to demonstrate to Nigerians that the taste of the pudding is in the eating. They must see us walk our talk. I agree with you that APC must show processes that are transparently internally democratic; that we are accountable to our members and by extension the people of Nigeria, and that we are open to everyone and the gate will not be shut against anyone – except against convicted murderers and those banned from holding public office by legitimate legal authorities.
 
 
If you want to run for the presidency – either from the New PDP or the APC, you are free to run; all you need do is sell yourself to party members. We have a responsibility to prove to Nigerians that we believe in processes that must be followed by all members- that no member is a second class citizen and that there will be no back-room deals in the competition for party offices and elective positions. Everything will be out in the open. Nigerians want us to be a better alternative. They don’t want us to be more of the same. Whilst this is desirable, our people must also not let the search for the perfect become the enemy of the reasonably good.
 
Coming from the controversial Anambra State governorship election, the next stop is Ekiti. Are you worried about the turn of event in Anambra?
 
 
I am genuinely concerned about the Anambracadabra which really should not repeat itself in Ekiti. However, I do think there is a silver lining with the Anambra occurrence. Maybe I’m naïve but I do think there are lessons INEC must have learned from the Anambra fiasco. Whether they learn such lessons or not, they should know that Ekiti people are very passionate about their votes. Check the electoral history of this country from the 1960s, you will think we are more Awolowo than the Ijebu people. You recall what happened in 1964/65 in Ekiti in the days of Operation wetie, later in 1983 in the Ajasin/Omoboriowo era in the then Ondo State and even much later in the ‘rig and roast’ development of the recent past. In all of these instances, Ekiti people made it clear that they abhor fraud and injustice. I do not entertain fears but there is need for us to be vigilant so that INEC will do what is right.
 
 
I know Ekiti is being targeted, Osun is being targeted, and within the context of the realignment going on in the country, we have even become states to be retrieved into the PDP fold by hook or crook through ‘do or die’ mechanisms.  These people see our hands in all of what had transpired since the Governors’ Forum elections. Rauf is labeled and blackmailed for recording and exposing the NGF show of shame and I get accused of being Rotimi Amaechi’s arrowhead in the opposition Governors’ camp. I don't know what they want us to do.
 
 
We belong to APC and we are not apologetic about our membership of the party and if there are people that we need to encourage to join the party, that is our binding duty as APC governors but that should not be seen as antagonising the ruling party and the powers that be in Abuja. We are not unaware of the various subterranean efforts already afoot to subvert our elections in some circles but I believe ultimately that the people of Ekiti will decide the fate of Ekiti election. Anybody who tries to use an external force or a sleight of hand to manipulate election in Ekiti knows what is waiting for him. That is the lesson of history here.

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