We can’t continue to run economy the way we are doing —Fayemi

Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State and current chairman of the Nigeria governors Forum (NGF) speaks on the clamour for fiscal federalism, devolution of powers, activities of self-determination groups in the country, insecurity, among other knotty national issues in this interview with journalists. KUNLE ODEREMI brings part of it:

 

WHAT would you consider the gains, challenges and the constraints of governing Ekiti State in the last two years of your return to office?

I’m in a fairly unique position in the sense that I’m not a new kid on the block. So, I cannot be excused from lack of knowledge of the challenges of office. If you all recall what I said during the campaigns in 2018, I said I had unfinished business which was the reason I was returning to Ekiti, not that I didn’t have an alternative or I just wanted to be governor for its own sake. I was a minister at the time I chose to go back because of the circumstances of my exit from office. I wanted to ensure that we won the state back to complete many projects embarked on in my first term, as well as entrench an irreversible development trajectory. In the four years that I was out of office, there was widespread suffering and poverty in the state. Ekiti, many will still argue, is essentially a civil service state. Payment of workers’ salaries should not be considered as an achievement. However, when you are a civil service state and you are operating in a situation where people have not been paid for almost a year, then it becomes a big deal when you take that burden off those directly affected, not to mention the multiplier effect on the citizens of the state. It’s, therefore, clear that we needed a change of leadership in order to get good governance back on the agenda and a sense of purpose back to government.

You can recall, my campaign focused on restoring the values and reclaiming the land of Ekiti. What was to be reclaimed? Take the social intervention programmes that we had in the state when I was governor. They were all cancelled by my successor. There was no longer free education programme up to senior secondary level as we used to have in my first term. The monthly stipend for the elderly citizens, “OwoArugbo” and the Food Bank, “OunjeArugbo”, as we call it in Ekiti also disappeared.

The free health programme for the under-five, over-65, pregnant women and people with disability were also cancelled by the previous government. Now, all these are back in Ekiti and our people are enjoying them. Given our parlous financial state, we figured out a way to run an economy that has also generated more investments for the state. If you look at our agricultural sector, we decided, policy-wise, that the only way we could transit from being a subsistence agricultural state was to find a mechanism to attract more commercial investment to the agriculture sector in the state. We have brought such critical players to the agricutural sector like Terra Agric, Dangote Farms, Stallion Farms, FMS, Promise Point and Cowbell (Promasidor) to Ekiti and in another three months, Promasidor would have reached full-scale production of dairy products. This is something that has led to the revival and resuscitation of the Ikun Dairy Farm that has been moribund for over two decades. We are establishing a special agriculture processing zone supported by the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the World Bank. We are in partnership with the World Bank on rural access to farms to aid agric marketing process. Basically, what that does for us is to open up the state by fixing the feeder roads, linking the farms to the market. Roughly, 1,000km of rural roads in addition to other agricultural infrastructure have been done.

In terms of roads, one of the most critical roads people complained about is the Ado-Akure road. When you go on that road, you will know the problem we have with the so-called federal roads.

 

How did you go about funding of the projects?

One of the very first things I did on coming back was to secure support of the AfDB to fix the road. Then, we ran into a hitch with the Federal Government when they insisted that we should not fix their road, that they would fix the road themselves. So, the Governor of Ondo State and I had to approach the AfDB with the support of the minister, BabatundeFashola, to relocate the funds to the Federal Government. The road is now ready for construction and the contractor – Dantata and Sawoe – is mobilising to the site as I speak. We hope they will finish it in good time for the people to really benefit from it.

We have our legacy projects which, for me, are the ones that, over the long term, can be treated more as the gains of the state and the restoration of values I was talking about. Our knowledge zone, which is basically an aggregation of opportunity in the knowledge service industry, is a special economic zone, probably the first in the country that is focused on intellectual capital. This is informed by who we are as Ekiti people; it is what we are known for – our intellect, our passion for education. How do we turn this to wealth rather than just reading for the sake of getting degrees? That was what informed this special zone we created in our education quadrangle, where we have about four higher institutions feeding this zone in biomedical, health, agric technology, and information technology.

About a month ago, I was at the Nigerian Export Promoting Zone Authority (NEPZA) to discuss with them the granting of the status of a special economic zone for the sector. We are also working on an airport for the state, an agric cargo airport, which is something that, in the short term, appears a luxury in the state but over a long time, the economic trajectory will become more sensible to those who are accessing the state. We have the best hospital in Nigeria in Ekiti. The airport will also make the hospital accessible because of Ekiti’s landlocked nature. So, what you can see as challenges for us, of course, include resource constraints. Ekiti, as I said, is not exactly a buoyant state. If you look at the ladder of states, we have just N3.3 billion coming from the Federation Account monthly. When you earn N3 billion and you spend between N2.6 and 2.8 billion on recurrent expenditure, you have to be more creative in order to deliver on the promises you made to the people. We have been fortunate because we have international partnerships that we are benefiting from. So, we have been able to fill the gap a little bit. We have a comprehensive water programme that is supported by the European Union and the World Bank, for example. We used to have water from the tap in Ekiti up to the early 70s and then water disappeared. We have brought back all the dams, replaced all the pipelines and of course got to a point of commissioning the various water projects that would enable virtually all the local governments access to water. Similarly, our RAAMP projects in the rural areas are things we have done with the support of the French Development Agency (FDA) and the World Bank as well.

Challenges should not be the problem of anybody who is in public office. If you have thought through what you are doing and you are prepared for office, you are bound to have challenges, economically, politically because there are those who feel that the resources of the state should be shared. If you do not come from that school of thought, you are definitely going to run into challenges with some elements, who may see things differently. Again, that is the price you pay for leadership, and leadership is not just a title, not just about being called His Excellency; it’s what you do to affect the lives of people. You have to take your stand on some of these issues without any equivocation, even if it means you will run into some political qualms as a result.

 

What about the constraints?

Constraint, I think, is something that is worth reflecting on. I think we are fast getting to a point in which we must confront our reality as a federation. Finance is always a constraint at the state level. There is what I call the tyranny of unfunded mandates. We can’t continue to run an economy the way we are doing. We have to figure out a structure, a formula that will enable us generate more funds internally and at the same time ensure equitable and fair distribution of what’s available in the federation coffers. We need a formula that is more responsive to the yearnings of the population. The current structure obviously favours those who are more associated with the unitary structure that privileges concentration of powers and resources at the centre rather than a genuine federal structure of federation units that are more accountable to the people and responsive to the challenges that the people have. What that formula should be has been a subject of debate from all sides of Nigeria. Clearly, the federal structure we have now is problematic and it is not working as it should and there is a justification for more devolution of not just functions, unless you want to suffer from a tyranny of unfunded mandate but also resources. You can’t devolve functions and not support it with resources and that is what we are faced with now. Thankfully, the government is more responsive under President Buhari. Federal roads that had been fixed for the past 20 years and not one naira was paid by the governments of Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, late Umaru Yar’Adua and Dr Goodluck Jonathan has now been paid by President Buhari. He asked the minister of works and housing, Babatunde Fashola, to go round the 36 states, check all the federal roads that have been fixed with evidence that they were actually fixed by the states and then pay. And he paid. That is not something that we have experienced since the dawn of this democratic dispensation.

Frankly, the issue is we still have to ask: What is a federal road?  The people, who are plying the road in my state don’t know the difference between a federal road and a state road. All they will say is that ‘Mr Governor, you are not doing your job,’ only for you to start explaining that ‘it’s not my road and I need permission to even work on it,’ just as we have experienced trying to work on Ado- Akure road. It is the same story all over. These roads are bad; the Federal Government has no money to fix them. Some they will fix via Sukuk bonds; some via the Sovereign Wealth Fund. We don’t have the resources. So, we have to devise a very sustainable means of addressing these issues beyond what we do on a medium scale basis. The Federal Government can always borrow to cover any shortfall but sub-nationals cannot, except we go through the Federal Government. Wearing my other hat as the chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), this is an issue that has been on the front burner of our work. We hope Nigerians would be able to push the argument to a point where the resources and the powers that reside in Abuja can be devolved to the states, with the resources also devolved to solve the responsibilities carried out at that level. It may not automatically improve performance but I believe it would improve accountability by bringing government closer to the people.

 

Are you making a case for fiscal federalism?

We have always made a case for fiscal federalism. I am a known advocate of fiscal federalism but I’m also saying even those who are reluctant and ambivalent about fiscal federalism are being confronted daily with these challenges in their states and they are asking themselves: ‘how long can we continue to do this; am I elected just to pay salaries and not raise funds to do more for my people?’ And it is not just about sharing revenues; it is also about creating the enabling environment that would allow investment to thrive in our various states.

 

On APC governors’ stand on restructuring, are you getting the cooperation of the National Assembly?

I am not the chairman, APC Governors’ Forum, by the way; I’m the chairman, Nigeria Governors’ Forum, which is non-partisan. But I’m a member of the former. These issues are raised daily but the point I’m trying to make is that, I don’t see a conflict between the pursuit of fiscal federalism and devolving more powers to the lower levels. In fact, they are two sides of the same coin whether you call it restructuring, devolution or constitutional reform; that’s just an issue of nomenclature. For us in APC, we have taken some bold steps. We have a comprehensive report which I’m sure many of you would have come across – the Nasir El-Rufai committee has not only articulated in clear terms what our views are on what you call restructuring but also attached  proposed bills which we then took as APC governors to the leadership of the National Assembly – Senator Ahmed Lawan, and Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, handed it over to them: we do not have the powers as governors to make laws, these are our proposals as governors of the APC, and we believe that when they start a constitution reform process, this will be one of the materials they would treat as a formal memorandum from us.’ I heard they have started the process now led by deputy president of the Senate, Omo-Agege; it is our hope that it will not go the way of the previous constitution reform process. The challenge is if we do not have the powers, we can propose and encourage our members but ultimately, the power resides in our National Assembly. I think the National Assembly really ought to spend time pulling together various constitutional reform processes, the Jonathan process, the 1995 Justice Niki Tobi process, the one by President Obasanjo, our own proposals as outlined in the El- Rufai report and several others with a view to harmonising them and come up with a single document, subject it to a national referendum and them we have a constitution. I don’t think it’s a rocket science but maybe there are impediments which the National Assembly may have, but they cannot say it’s President Buhari or APC governors that have stopped them from accelerating the constitutional reform process.

 

Is 2023 possible without restructuring, given the agitation for Biafra Republic, Oduduwa Republic, Kwararafa Republic and so on?

Posturing is part of politics and people will always posture and use that to gain the headline. Those people talking about Oduduwa Republic or Kwararafa Republic, who are they speaking for? Who gave them the mandate to speak for Yoruba? Did they consult the Yoruba people and the Yoruba people told them that they want Oduduwa Republic? If you have Oduduwa Republic, where will the capital be?  That is just a tip of the iceberg. You can be sure that all Yoruba people are not on the same page; neither are all Jukuns or Hausa on the same page, despite efforts to maintain the impression of a monolithic Yoruba, Igbo or Hausa-Fulani identity. If you bring the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), you will get the same feedback. I think the One Nigeria I want is the Nigeria that serves everybody and works for everybody. I don’t know any reasonable Nigerian who wants Nigeria to break up. People just believe that Nigeria is not working in the way and manner it should work for them. So if they are agitating, I don’t think they are agitating for a break-up. They just want the powers-that-be to hear and listen to their pains and take some actions. Some extremists would go in the direction of unilateral declaration of independence or secession and it’s within their right to do that as long as they conduct themselves within the ambit of the law. It’s a democracy, but most reasonable, most serious Nigerians don’t play this game.

Look at the demography: 65 percent of Nigerians are under 30. They are not interested in this egomaniacal pursuits of lionising ethnic identity – you are Hausa, you are Igbo, this and that. No! Look at music; look at information technology; look at the areas our young people are excelling; they are marrying one another, they are growing up all over the place; they are not sold to this ethnic agenda at all and you know that. Even in your own home, your kids are not talking about this. They are talking about opportunities; why am I not a beneficiary of equality of access and opportunity? And I think we need to read their lips carefully to know what Nigerians are saying, and the media has a role to play.

Many of our young people have opted out of Nigeria psychologically. They have deserted Nigeria and that is what should worry us, because they are a bundle of talents; they are the ones with the energy, the creativity and innovation capabilities. Poverty is violence, when you look also at the insecurity complex, there is nexus. Lack of development, lack of jobs and insecurity that we are grappling with whether with the insurgency-infested North-East or the banditry-ravaged North-West or the kidnapping-consumed South-East and South-West or the militancy-proliferated South-South or the herder-farmer clashes of the North-Central – there is a direct correlation between poverty, lack of unemployment opportunities for the youth and violence. If we want to reduce violence and insecurity, we need to do something about human capital development and it does not have any correlation with North, East or West.  It is more pronounced in the North clearly than in the South. But even, the South is not immune to this inextricably intertwined complex, and I think as a country, we need a Nigeria that works for every Nigerian. The people who are just entertaining themselves with Oduduwa Republic, Biafra Republic or whatever republic, I wish them luck but I know that’s not where the real Nigerians are.

 

Do you think the people being attacked in the Middle Belt and other places repeatedly by bandits and herdsmen share your optimism and belief?

It’s not about belief; they are Nigerians. Apart from the fact that they were born here, they live here and whether you are a resident or a full-blooded citizen, you want peace; you want security. It really doesn’t matter, Nigeria is not just a geographic space but also a living space and you want to derive benefit from it. But the reality is that if we do not fix this country in the manner that responds to the yearnings of the citizens, it will consume all of us. It will not just consume those who are kidnapping and killing. Yes, people have deserted their homes because of insecurity, but it’s not the solution; the solution is that we must make our country liveable, and in making our country liveable, security cannot be unitarised. That is one of the things that must be devolved so that we can respond adequately to the immediate challenges in our community. If a stranger enters your village, within five minutes, the local chief would know. But if someone comes to Ikeja, unless the community police system is developed, you won’t be able to manage it and I think the Nigeria Police, as currently structured, is not. You know my views on this; that’s why we started Amotekun and thank God the Federal Government has deemed it fit to commence a community policing arrangement. It speaks to the fact that everybody realises that you cannot effectively manage security and safety from the confines of Abuja; it won’t work and it has not worked. So, let us look for creative mechanism that would make it responsive to the immediate needs of the people in every community. If we don’t do that, we won’t even know the connection between the bandits, who they claim have come from some places outside Nigeria and the network they have in Nigeria. You will not know; you will just be assuming why it’s happening, but there is a network; they know the terrain.  We have discovered, for example in Ekiti, that whenever we have kidnapping incidents and we follow the trail into the various forests, we have some of our locals who collaborate with them by taking food to them or selling recharge cards to them, and you will not be looking for those ones, you will be looking for the “herdsmen.” So, we need to really study our situation, develop a security mechanism that is localised and then we begin to address this problem holistically.

 

What about the crisis in your party in Ekiti State?

Well, I don’t know about crisis but anywhere you have agitation, it’s not helpful. But agitation is in the DNA of politics. For me, politics is not just about allocation of resources but also about who has power, who lost power and who wants power. And clearly whenever you have a contest, somebody must win and somebody must lose in that contest. The ability to fully bring everybody together is also a hallmark of leadership and I believe that’s what we have done in Ekiti. But we still have some people, who have issues with that. If you check my cabinet, you will see that five of the people who contested with me in the gubernatorial race are in my cabinet as commissioners and special advisers. That’s part of our efforts to pull everybody in. Yet, another is the Federal Character commissioner in Abuja; one is in the Senate and I can go on and on, and two are in the House of Representatives. So, we have almost closed the circle. Naturally, there are those still smarting from their loss in 2018 and believe the only solution is to bring the house down, even if all the clout they have is in newspapers and social media platforms. While we try to accommodate the expectations of all, it’s always a constant struggle for any political leader to manage the limited resources in the overall interest of the state and to share to people who feel they deserve more than what they are getting. We will keep trying to satisfy all and sundry. The semblance of crisis you referred to is being handled appropriately. But, frankly speaking, there is no faction in our party in Ekiti. There is only one party in Ekiti, the leadership of the party in Ekiti is not in any controversy. So, those who decided to entertain themselves by claiming that they have suspended the governor can only be the ones to answer why they did that. But the party has pronounced at the national level; it has made its position clear, however, because we felt that we need a united party. It’s in our collective interest to have a united party; even, if it is one lost sheep, we are taking up this issue. Those who say they have grievances, we have set up a local reconciliation committee in the state under the former chairman of the party. They should ventilate their grievances with this committee and whatever the outcome of the report, the party will look into it and take appropriate action. That committee just submitted its report last week to the party. So, without prejudice to whatever action the national headquarters is taking, we are taking specific steps in the party in the state in order to manage the situation. You can also understand why this is happening. We are here discussing my second year in office. I have two years to go; I am not running again. There are people who are interested in becoming governors so they have to shake the table in order to create opportunities for their own gubernatorial projects and I wish them well. There is nothing wrong in that, I too ran for it and I was fortunate to get it. Others who feel that they should keep trying should be allowed to do that but they shouldn’t do it at the detriment of the party. There are legitimate ways to agitate for it, and if your fear is that the sitting governor is going to bring somebody and it won’t be you, why don’t you wait, let’s get to that bridge before we cross it. That’s really how I see it; it’s not distracting government in anyway; it makes for good headlines in newspapers though, but anyone who is familiar with Ekiti politics knows that most of the people doing this are not even in Ekiti but they have a very good relationship with the media, and so anything they send to you gets your attention, whether factual or not. But I also have a good relationship with you so I don’t begrudge them.

 

APC LOSING ELECTIONS

Naturally, when you have been in office the way we have been, we serve the full term. We started a second term in 2019 and we have spent one and a half years in this term. The real politics is not just the entrenched interest that we talked about, but the real politics is that you would have offended people simply by being in office, not for doing anything. Even in your own party not to talk of opposition, that’s one. Number two, we arrived at a bad run of event you may say. It has not been good for us, COVID-19 has affected the economy of every Nigerian and we are all at our wit end and are dealing with fuel deregulation, dealing with electricity tariff increase. Necessary as they may be, there is no good time for any of these changes in the economy; no perfect time for removal of subsidy that people will not go on and protest. Even, the limited resources they have is being depreciated and once you affect someone’s individual economy, you are affecting his perception of things. So, you could say that there is a climate and condition for difficulty, experienced by a ruling party that’s another one, but there are also self -inflicted problems. We have self-inflicted problems in Edo. I’m the first to admit that. Anybody familiar with what happened in Edo would know that we put our party in a situation that was problematic.

The manner of the exit of the governor from our party created problems for us in Edo and many of you in the media have said this. Two, our candidate in the election, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, was not as visible as he should be in the campaign. And I could liken it to my situation in Ekiti when I ran for this office I now occupy. Most people, up till today, could not identify the person I contested against.  Many Nigerians, if you ask them, will say I ran against Ayo Fayose, not Olusola Eleka. We had that problem in Edo. Obaseki did not run against Ize Iyamu.  Obaseki ran against you-know-who, and that affected us. In politics, perception is often reality.

How will you be rounding off as governor?

When I came into politics a while ago, in 2005 December to be precise, I said my vision was clear and mission unmistakable. It was to make poverty history and promote wealth creation through social investment and entrepreneurial opportunities. We were known as the civil service state, the fountain of knowledge, an agrarian state, even at that we were pretty much limited to subsistence farming and our educational advantage was not promoting local wealth creation. Fifteen years on, while we are not yet where we ought to be, Ekiti has changed in a number of ways. On a lighter note, I think we used to be known for noise in the last four years, that noise has gone down considerably, governance has returned on a much more serious level and the benefit to our people is evident, not just in regular salary payment but in terms of self -esteem, as in the return of respect and dignity to the citizens but that, by itself, is an intangible legacy. While we have not eradicated poverty, but our health and education indices have improved significantly. When you look around the state, there is a very significant improvement in the physical infrastructure and we have also focused our energy on agriculture. The truth is that I want to stand out when I leave office, on the extent to which Agric business has taken root on a commercial and in a sustainable manner. Second, our economy is a knowledge economy and I want to be able to be judged by the extent to which we have succeeded in making Ekiti the intellectual capital of Nigeria. So, if these are our pillars, why can’t we then translate it to real high level investment opportunities for people by creating an environment that enables these things to thrive? When we bring Dangote rice or we bring Promasidor to Ekiti, it’s not a fancy project to us. It’s something that we see on a long-term scale that we believe will encourage similar players to see Ekiti as a destination of choice, when it comes to protecting their investment. And some of the incentives we make available to them, I believe that should continue long after we are no longer in office. So, those are the legacies but physical infrastructure inevitably we are keen on that as well because Ekiti is landlocked yet Ekiti is the midpoint between the commercial capital of Nigeria – Lagos and the administrative capital – Abuja, so it could become effectively a critical pathway to all. We have a project now with Dangote to reconstruct the Kabba-Ekiti boundary road through the tax incentive scheme, which Dangote has used in Lagos for Apapa road, he has used it also from Obajana to kabba. Now, we want to extend it from Kabba to Ekiti, because once that road is done, you can get to Abuja in four hours, instead of going to Edo down to Abuja. So, some of these opportunities have to be harnessed, and we believe that we are in a better position to do that. So, we have the special agric processing zone that the African Development Bank is helping us with, then we have our knowledge zone which is also a special economic zone for intellectual development. I always tell people, that the best hospital in Nigeria is in Ekiti, very few Nigerians know that. So, if you want to push medical tourism, in the direction of such a hospital people don’t know, then you can see the logic of having an airport that at least can stop the train going to India and Dubai and all these places, because it’s state of the art, there is nothing you are going to get in Dubai that is not in Afe Babalola Teaching hospital, but Nigerians don’t even know that.

 

What is the progress of work on the state airport project?

It’s on course. It would be finished before I leave office

 

Whenever it comes to NGF issue, both PDP and APC governors usually unite to fight a common front. How have you been able to achieve this?

I don’t want to lay claim to having any extra-ordinary powers, but don’t forget in the recent history of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), I am the only governor or chairman that has emerged by consensus. There was no vote; PDP and APC governors agreed that I should be the chairman of the Forum and PDP governors passionately pushed for it as much as APC governors did. So, even those that had it in mind that they were going to run, immediately backed out, and I think that speaks to not just relationship building but also the focus of NGF itself. We are not a partisan body; we have our partisan forums. If you want to discuss partisanship you go to my brothers, Atiku Bagudu and Aminu Tambuwal – they are the chairmen of APC and PDP Governors Forum. We also have our zonal forums chaired by Governors Masari, Sani Bello, Babagana Zulum, Ifeanyi Okowa, Dave Umahi and Rotimi Akeredolu. They focus on what affects their zones.

I was accused, for example, that I was not seen in Edo campaigning for my party. True. I had Covid around the time but even if I had no ailment, it would have been difficult to campaign openly for our candidate. In the NGF we have an unspoken golden rule, the chairman of the Forum does not campaign against a sitting governor. Most people don’t know this, because my job is to protect and defend and support all governors, whether PDP or APGA or APC. But the partisan forum, they have no problem about that. The job of Atiku Bagudu is to campaign for any APC candidate running for office and it’s the job of Aminu Tambuwal to do the same for PDP candidates. But NGF is about issues and interests that affect governors collectively- our finance, the revenue, policy, issues around healthcare, security, education, infrastructure, and relationship with the Federal Government. . So, I will always take up issues brought to my attention by members of the NGF. Only last week, I had approached the leadership of the National Assembly on road infrastructure refund affecting five of our states: Rivers, Bayelsa, Cross Rivers, Ondo and Osun. That’s my job and they will call me and say ‘chairman, you have not gone to talk to the Minister of Finance about my money’ and I will run there and plead on their behalf. That is why you will always see us working closely. Sometimes, you will see me going to Borno just as you saw me going to Wike to commission projects or you saw me in Jigawa, it’s not a partisan forum, it’s just the nature of the Governors forum.

 

Many believe your cordial relationship with your colleague governors is a way of building structure for your 2023 presidential ambition.

When I went to Governor Nyesom Wike, it was for two reasons: first, he was having problems with the Muslim community in Rivers State over a land that was supposed to be used for a mosque and two, he was having the first anniversary of his return and I went to commission some projects for him. I was also in Jigawa State a few days ago. That is just standard practice; it has nothing to do with any ambition.

 

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