#Nigeria Fayemi: My worries about the Nigerian polity
Governor Kayode Fayemi is not just a politician, but also a scholar. In this interaction with journalists in Lagos, the Ekiti State governor addressed controversies surrounding the West’s attempt to integrate the region, the security report on Osun State and the Ondo State political imbroglio. Group Political Editor BOLADE OMONIJO was there.
Is regional integration possible with the altercation between ACN and Labour Party in Ondo?
What is wrong, if Aregbesola one of the leaders of the Action Congress of Nigeria wants his party to produce the governor of Ondo State? I have already told you about style and language. Is there anything fundamental about Aregbesola’s involvement in politics? Will he be promoting other parties? If we go as far as Adamawa, we sent people to Kogi, we sent people to work with our party in all the states we have potentials to win, what is wrong with that. The people you say people are not harassing, Adams in BRACED, don’t they come to campaign in Edo for PDP, do they get harassed? Has their rally been disrupted? Let us be fair about it. If we have a problem with Aregbesola language or style there is nothing wrong in advising him to moderate his style. I still insist that Ondo believes in regional integration. In regional integration everywhere it happens, you will have leaders who are uncomfortable with one another. Take the European Union, at the beginning, Britain stood out, they said they didn’t want to be part of it, Germany and France pushed on for some time till it became economically unwise for Britain to stay out of it as they realised that the market, that big European market, is there for them. This is an economic and development issue, it is not a political issue. It is not about the governors, it is about the economic necessity. Can we survive on our own? Can we remain in our silo? What happens to us when this handout from Abuja, that we call allocation stops? How do we want to organise our society? It is a futuristic agenda, it is not even an agenda for now.
What is your view on recent development in Osun State and its effect on the image of your party?
Our party, the Action Congress of Nigeria, has a manifesto. Our manifesto is not apologetic in any way about how we see the Nigeria state today. We believe in the promotion of equity. We have offered what we consider to be the mechanism for re-ordering state, federal and local government relations. That is properly documented. Whether it is called in some sectors devolution of power or it is called by another decentralisation or it is called true federalism. There are all sorts of names that are used for what we believe in. We all have our styles of governance. It may be easy for me because of my nature to relate with an Ayo Fayose who is my brother, regardless of whatever his political position is or Oni or any of the other people in my state in a manner that Governor Aregbesola may find difficult, if not impossible, to relate with Iyiola Omisore or even his predecessor; Governor Oyinlola. That is personal style but we must not elevate that personal style to the level of fiction because that is exactly what is happening with the so called security report. I come from a security background as many of you know. I know how security reports are put together and when you put together a report that is mishmash of discussion, I don’t want to say beer parlour or pepper soup joint discussion, with no head no tail, I have my worries. Governor Aregbesola is seen as fiery and fearsome, but he is quite soft at heart. It may be difficult for some to believe that is really what he is. Because he is a shy person, his own mental defence mechanism may be to put a wall between himself and those who he doesn’t want to relate to but when you really subject it to logic what is in that report that is worthy of a second look from any serious minded person. As I said in my statement, we had a flag before Osun had a flag. Lagos had a flag 20 years ago. It was the only state that remained when the other states were balkanized. We have an anthem. If you come to Ekiti, we don’t sing just the national anthem, we sing our own Ekiti anthem and if you come across any document from Ekiti State, you will see that it is not the federal government coat of arms that we have in the state. We don’t even have the Federal Government’s coat of arms on our document. That is not to say that we are not a constituent part of the federal state called Nigeria, and we are proud to be, but we believe that we need an identity that speaks to the core value of our state, that our people can relate to and when you see the Ekiti crest, if no name is written on it, if you have 10 crests put together and you see the Ekiti crest you will not be in any doubt. You will actually say this must be Ekiti without being told. I think that is what Governor Aregbesola has done.
What about Omisore’s threat to stop and search the convoy of Aregbesola?
How is it going to be done? Some of the people fighting him, where were they in the politics in their state. You have my brother who claimed to be the South West Chairman of their party.
It will not be news to you that he has no place at home. He couldn’t even go home. He is settling quarrel all over the South West, he could not go home to his party to resolve the conflagration that is there.
Is it feasible for a state to champion secession?
Is Osun State championing secession? One, it is not feasible. We have our own design, our own grand dream about what we want to achieve for our state. I have just come from the opening ceremony of the Lagos Economic Summit. Lagos is still a sub nation in Nigeria but it is the fourth largest economy in Africa. It is not a sovereign state, but many of the things that Lagos wants to do, many sovereign states in Africa cannot do. It is a matter of choice. If Osun has a vision of building a state that is self sufficient, that has food security, that can respond to the needs of the people and you then find that difficult, then it is not secession that you are worried about. You are worried about what the performance level will do to the fortune of your own party, if he was to achieve all of those elements. It is the same old age battle between the reactionaries and the progressives. That is what is happening. Don’t let us kid ourselves. I dare say it has some level of Abuja connection in it. We are not worried. We have no issue with the Federal Government. The issue that we have with the Federal Government, we have put them on the table, the lopsidedness of the relation between the centre and the state. That is open; people know our position on that. We want our regional bloc to serve the people of this region. We are unapologetic about that and nobody can accuse us of going into our siloh because that is a model that is being represented everywhere. As we speak some people are gathered in Asaba called BRACED meeting on South South agenda and working on the South South development. Let us not mix development with politics. They are not meeting on South South sharing of money, they are meeting on how to bring development to the region. Peter Obi, my brother and his colleagues gather time to time to organise in response to the economic challenges in the South East and unless we do that how am I going to access the N3 billion food market in Lagos, if I don’t work within the regional hub and discourage Lagos from even venturing into Agriculture so that I can bring the food here? That, for us, is the issue. The time for governance is for governance. It seems to be in their own views which are being parroted by the media, Aregbesola is the most recalcitrant of the lot. If you can crush him, Fayemi is easy, Amosun used to be with us we can get him back, Ajimobi is a nice man, Fashola is a technocrat. That is their own estimation and that is what is driving what they are doing. Unfortunately for them they are on the wrong track.
How will you describe what happened at the venue of the botched Adebayo Adefarati Memorial lecture in Ondo?
It is a worrisome development. I hope, it is not yet an ugly event. If it is an ugly event, I hope it is not going to become a process; that it will remain an event. I was surprised by what happened. I want to be as frank as possible. I found it strange because I regard the governor of Ondo State as my brother and I have said this to many of you on many occasions that in my party, I am seen as the closest link to him, even when some of the leaders in my party are not necessarily very cordial in their relationship with the governor. I have always maintained that the relationship that I have with him goes beyond the personal. We have very strong personal bond. We were in the trenches together. We fought together, even though, he was on the other side, (the Labour Party) but were both the underdogs when we went into our elections and necessarily, we exchanged notes. We did many things together, even now, particularly developmentally. He was one of the first people that I spoke to when the Adefarati family came to me that I should come and give a lecture. I told the family when they came that since this was not a partisan matter; it was a memorial of somebody who had been governor of a state, who had been a leader of the progressive movement. I don’t think it should be partisan, and I asked the family pertinent questions: who are the people that are coming? Have you told the governor of the state? What role will it play at the event? The family members made it clear to me that they had informed the governor, even though they had difficulty in seeing him but they handed over the letter to his Chief of Staff.
About two days to the event, I called him and confirmed to him that I would be coming to deliver Baba Adefarati’s 5th Memorial lecture. He said that he didn’t like the way the lecture was being handled, that he felt that there was a political undertone and all that, which is natural. Any of us could come with any impression of this matter and I said to him, well as far as I am concerned, this is an important thing to do. It is the 5th anniversary of a man in whose administration he himself was very much involved as a commissioner, even more than someone like me. I told him that I would come over to him and we would go together to the event which. But, before I left Ado-Ekiti, I received the first warning shot because my advance team was already there, and, they informed me that there was problem, altercation between the Labour Party supporters and those of the Action Congress of Nigeria, (ACN) at the venue of the event, but at that time they had not attacked Dr. Olaiya Oni. It was the early period of the day.
Did you at that point get in touch with him again?
Again, I called my brother and said this is what I was hearing about the place and I hoped it was proper for me to come and he said that he too had heard that there were problems, they were not allowing members of the Labour Party to come in. that was his own perspective. By the time I got to Akure, I discovered that it was really pointless going to the place because the feedback I was getting was not palatable. I went to the house of our party leader; the former Secretary to the State Government under Chief Adefarati; Omo Ekun, Chief Wunmi Adegbonmire. I was there with our National Chairman, Chief Bisi Akande and some other chieftains, watching the development whether things would calm down or not. We eventually got a message that the situation was yet to abate. My own security team actually wanted to go, but I felt that it wasn’t proper. If I had gone, those who had been shooting and throwing all sort of things, my own security team would have found it necessary to respond and that would have escalated the entire thing beyond what later transpired. So, I decided that I was leaving town. Again I called my brother that given what had transpired, I couldn’t go to the event, I was returning to Ado-Ekiti and he said that he was in Ile Oluji at the time. We agreed to see subsequently.
Do you think this could foretell what to expect during the campaign?
What I found surprising was that an event of this nature could be turned into a redress rehearsal for the shape of things to come in Ondo State. I really do hope it is not the shape of things. It was also more shocking to me, naturally, when matters like this happen, security people will do their investigation and Ondo and Ekiti are like Siamese twins, there is very little you can do in one angle that will not filter to the other. I was surprised when I discovered from evidence shown to me later that elements close to the party and government in Ondo State were central to everything that happened. I don’t know if my brother was aware of the role they played because it is also possible as governors often find themselves in a situation where their supporters and their key actors may do things that they are not privy to. It is not impossible that he may not even know the activities of some of his men but I have it on very good authority that at least three of the drivers of the fracas are key officials in his party. It was not spontaneous. It was not accidental. It was organised and they had been there since 7am. In fact, some of the people they used had effrontery to go to an event where the governor was presented an award same evening to lodge a complaint that the money they gave to them was not enough and I don’t think that is something I really want to associate with the governor of Ondo State. I feel very strongly as earlier said that I am almost regarded as umbilical cord between my party and himself because we have close relationship. I respect him, I discuss a lot of things with him, particularly in relation to our states because hardly can one do anything without the other.
Beyond the Fayemi/Mimiko personal relationship, what about the two states?
We are closely tied, not just because of our shared history, but also because of the practicality. There are many of my people who live in Akure and come to Ado-Ekiti, including senior functionaries of my government. I wouldn’t want a situation in which Ondo State citizens in Ekiti and Ekiti citizens in Ondo will find themselves in the line of fire which they had not caused which is driven by political machination rather than any objective animosity on the part of both states, particularly, the two of us really have nothing but I also know that in politics, friends easily becomes enemies and I will hate a situation in which that will be the case. I have seen a lot of reports in newspapers, attributing what happened to all sorts of funny things like ACN aspirants fighting among themselves, Labour people not being allowed to come into the venue.
Do you agree with those expressing fear that we may be sowing the seed that could consume the Republic?
What is much more fundamental and which I think should worry us collectively and, as leaders in the media and society I will like all of us to reflect on it together, is the potential that this holds even for the survival of our democracy. The West has a history in this country, and more often than not, the West is always the trigger of crisis. There are those, particularly conservative elements in this country who always find it necessary to arrest development in the West without considering the full implications of that on the country and more often than not when that thrives, it ends up destroying the very fabric of this fragile democracy called Nigeria and I hope we are not going down that route again with Ondo State becoming Achilles heel in our country.
There are those who will even see some of the things that I have jokingly talk about with you on development in Osun. I am an unapologetic advocate of regionalism and many of you have read my interview or comment that I do not necessarily believe that we all must belong to the same political party for regionalism to take root. I used to give example that in our lifetime Chief Kehinde Sofola came from the same community as Chief Obafemi Awolowo and he was Attorney General of the NPN, the party in government in the Second Republic. There is nothing that says that we cannot even belong to the opposing side. Let us market ourselves to the people. Let us sell our idea to the people and it is on the basis of that that we should ask for their votes and for legitimacy. None of us should be indulged in any attempt to force ourselves on our people. Once there is a legitimate product of legitimate process, the ownership comes automatically In my state I make bold to say that some may say Fayemi is a passivist. Governor Ayo Fayose was with me to greet me on my mother’s passage. When former Governor Oni’s mother died, I was one of the first people that went there, in spite of our political differences and I was at her funeral. Politically, many of you may know that Chief Afe Babalola is not exactly on my side of the divide, but at every opportunity because I recognise that he is an icon, we have a state calendar, he is one of the first people on the Ekiti state calendar as a brand ambassador for my state. That is me. I don’t see why I cannot disagree with you politically and still share bread with you. Call it naivety, lack of readiness to play politics the way it is meant to be played in our setting. I think this is an intellectual process and we can have an intellectual approach to disagreement which does not impair my personal relationship with you. That is why I am saddened by what happened in Ondo State. The lecture did not make a single reference to the impending election in Ondo State, neither did it talk about the relationship between my party and the Labour Party. It focused on how we could rebuild this society on the basis of equity, fairness and justice.
Source : The Nation