Dr. John Kayode Fayemi’s second term as Governor of Ekiti State ended last Sunday with the inauguration of an Airport and swearing in of his successor and a former Chief of Staff and one time Secretary to the State Government, Mr. Biodun Oyebanji. In this interview with select journalists a few days before the change of baton, Fayemi reminisces on the high and low points of his administration and the legacies he left behind. BIYI ADEGOROYE reports
Ekiti 2018 to 2022, what has changed?
Well, if you recall, the thrust of my campaign in 2018 was about restoring the values and reclaiming the land for the people and there was a context to it.
We had been short-changed and have received bad press for atrocities that our people did not commit, simply on account of the way the then governor portrayed himself and portrayed us as the state of stomach infrastructure, of hungry people who were just desperate for anything they can grab and they had no values, no character, no integrity, it was just about whatever crumbs could drop from the table of the master.
That was the perception. I believe it was a wrong image of the Ekiti people. I saw my role as that of a brand ambassador dedicated to rebranding Ekiti and putting its image in proper perspective.
So, coming on board in 2018, first was the general disillusionment among the public servants over backlog of unpaid salaries, also abandoned projects both from Segun Oni’s time that we were unable to complete in my first tenure and even uncompleted projects from Governor Ayo Fayose’s second term. If you compare those projects from then to now, you will see what we’ve done; you will see a significant difference.
However, while bricks and mortar are important and people tend to place a lot of emphasis on bricks and mortar, if we only see what has changed in terms of bricks and mortar, we would be missing the point. I’m not saying that we haven’t done that – we’ve completed, for example, the Obafemi Awolowo Civic Centre, the Central Market that Governor Fayose started opposite the King’s Palace here in Ado Ekiti.
We’ve completed that and ultra-modern markets in the 16 local government headquarters. We’ve built hundreds kilometres of road, built schools and hospitals. We’ve revived the Ikun Dairy Farm in partnership with Promasidor. We’ve started the Special Agriculture Processing Zone. Governor Ayo Fayose made a lot of noise about the airport and was keen to do it but clearly there were competing needs over limited resources. Now, the airport we started from scratch is almost finished.
The runway is done. The terminal building is ready. It will have its first test flight in another few days – even though that was one other project that was on his agenda, so to speak, and even previously on former Governor Segun Oni’s agenda…
So, for me, it’s been an interesting four years, it’s been great to have the opportunity to serve our people and, naturally, citizens will always be fastidious and no matter how grateful they are for what you have done, there is still a lot to do. The job is never complete and the complaints will never end.
In the four years of your second tenure, which would you describe as the day you would never forget in terms of challenge?
The day the Ekiti State chapter of the Nigerian Union of Pensioners rejected the plan we put before them to defray the backlog of gratuity. There had been a backlog of gratuities running into N12billion by the time I came and we then entered a partnership with one of the prominent financial Institutions to give these pensioners discounted promissory notes that would defray that, but there would be a commission by the institution providing the money.
And we explained to them that, look, your gratuity, for example is N5million and the provider of this service will take between 10 and 15 per cent commission and you will get between N3.5million to N4m or thereabouts, instead of the N5million. It is still better for you to take this sum, rather than to keep waiting endlessly till when the government will have N5m cash to give you.
Yes, you are losing some money, but this N4million you’re getting is cash at hand, not N5million that you’re expecting but has not seen and that you may not see if – God forbids – you die before the money eventually comes to you. We’ve concluded this arrangement.
Unfortunately, the pensioners eventually refused the offer and lost a major opportunity. When you look at the inflationary trend in the country, N4 million cash four years ago will probably be worth just N3 million now if not less than that. Very unfortunate.
What are the plans you were unable to complete in your second tenure?
What have you put in place to ensure that your legacies are sustained after you leave office? When I came in 2018, I had a five-point agenda: Knowledge Economy, Good Governance, Agriculture and Rural Development, Social investment and Infrastructure Industrial development. I could say that we’ve reasonably touched all sectors and addressed the challenges that we saw then.
When we came in in 2018, Ekiti had moved from being the state with the highest enrolment in the country and the lowest out-of-school children when I left in 2014. It had moved to the last in the South-West. So, all the states that we were doing much better than – we were tops in the country- but we had become No. 6 in the South-West in terms of school enrolment and number of out-of-school children.
But the NBS (Nigeria Bureau of Statistics) joint survey with UNICEF just came out last month, Ekiti has come back up to No. 1 in the country, tying with Imo as the state with the highest enrolment and lowest out-of-school children of one per cent. What did we do? It is not rocket science.
When Governor Fayose was here, students were paying an education levy, so they were paying for tuition in primary and secondary schools, they were also paying for their public examinations.
So, I came back in 2018 and restored all our policies of 2014 and that is what has resulted in this significant outcome. Because people who could not afford it, who took their kids out of school and kept them at home, those who would get to senior secondary school and could not afford the N20,000 for WAEC fees, all of that burden was taken off the poor parents.
The intention was not to encourage parents to abdicate their responsibilities to their wards but to just lighten their burden since they were still getting uniforms and some basics for their wards. By taking those critical things out of their limited funds, pupils started returning to schools and then we were even getting a drift from private to public schools because of all the new schools built across the state.
Then, in public examinations, they were doing very well in the country, ditto for secondary schools and then in our technical colleges – students had even deserted – but now because we had this aggressive drive towards vocational and technical education and we also improved the schools conditions and the learning environment, you can’t force people to go to schools where there aren’t even tools for them to practise what you’re teaching them.
But, if you go to Government Technical College, Ado Ekiti, the equipment there is better than the equipment in some universities, same for Government Technical College Otun or Ijero. That’s also one of the advantages of my coming back. All the development partners who either left the State or scaled down their operations when Governor Fayose came, they all returned and within the space of four years I have been in office, this state must have received at least $350millon from development partners such as the World Bank, European Union, AfDB, French Development Agency to name a few in both grants and concessions lending.
People ask ‘How are you able to do some of these things that you are doing? ‘It is basically because whatever I have from the Federation Account, I used it to pay salaries, anything you’re seeing here is mostly development support from our partners and our IGR.
The roads, the dams that we rehabilitated, the European Union, World Bank, French Development Agency, our Independent Power Project – that was our own public-private partnership (PPP), but a number of our initiatives were supported but they wouldn’t support you if they don’t have confidence that you will deliver because it is not a favour, this is still our money, it is just that the money is being lent to us at concessional lending rate.
Instead of paying 30 per cent at XYZ bank, for a loan, we’re getting it at one per cent with a moratorium of 10 years and total repayment of 30 years, so it is almost like you’re paying zero for these facilities we’ve been able to attract to the state. So, we did that. In healthcare, it is the same thing, in infrastructure, agriculture, in our Owo Arugbo and similar schemes that we had in my first term, we were able to restore then.
What are the things that you would have loved to do that you couldn’t do?
I still, regrettably, feel that my agenda to reduce dependence on the Federation Account has not completely succeeded. We’ve reduced it, but not to the percentage that I had promised that I would do. That’s partly COVID-19 pandemic-related but also partly our people’s attitude to tax. Again, it’s not unique to our people, nobody likes to pay tax, whether in Lagos or Ekiti and there is a level to which you can be aggressive in a state like this, when you know that the per capita income of the people is so low.
So, that’s one area where I think we still need to do a lot more work for the state to earn its full stripes as an independent autonomous state that is not waiting for what is coming from FAAC before moving on with its development agenda The second for me is in creating opportunities for our SMES and start-ups in the state for job creation because that is another area that we do have a challenge.
We have a lot of people that are out of school, who are not gainfully employed and the tendency is for such people to resort to nefarious activities if they don’t have any means of livelihood, if they are not dependent on those who can give them money to spend, so that’s why the incoming governor is making that a major focus of his own agenda.
So, talk about continuity, that’s something that at least he will be able to focus on. Most of the infrastructure, we have done quite well there. Maintenance would need to continue, particularly the water dams, the roads, of course the airport is coming on stream, that would also demand its own maintenance.
But essentially, I think if he can concentrate on human capital development that would be a critical success factor for the incoming administration. Even if we have improved the health condition and nutrition of the people, you still need to ensure that they have a sense of self -worth by being gainfully employed in their own right to do things and if you don’t make Ekiti a destination for investors, people who want to spend time, tour, make it a conference capital, which is one of the reasons behind our civic and convention Centre will not come.
If we have a hotel capacity of about 5,000 rooms in Ekiti, it is not difficult for the NMMA or NBA to come. The NBA cannot come to this state now because we do not have the capacity to host their conference. It would rather go to Lagos, Rivers or the FCT and those are the states they go most of the time, but we can consciously make Ekiti a destination of choice and by the time the airport becomes operational, we will be nearer that goal. That is what we are trying to do with the various facilities we are putting in place.
When you see that Ekiti is equidistant – 30 minutes by flight to Lagos, 30 minutes by flight to Abuja, it is well positioned to serve in that capacity and if you keep building on, rather than subtracting from, which is one of the things we’ve done,we will get there. I could have abandoned a lot of the projects that Governor Fayose started too, but I completed them, because, first, it is Ekiti money. Second, I am not on any ego trip with anybody.
It is really pointless and I think our politics need to move away from such finger pointing to something more serious, and I don’t think the new governor would feel any sense of competition, although you can’t rule out people coming to say to him, you need your own legacy projects. He would just want to continue from where we’ve stopped.
You’ve been a minister and you’ve been governor. What are your political plans after your governorship tenure expires?
I want to be a house husband. (laughs). We are all instruments in the hands of God. For a start, you know that I belong to a party; my party is in the race for the presidency. I have no choice than to support my party to win that race. As you know, I ran for President myself and stepped down for the candidate of the party, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
So, naturally I will work for the party; that’s the next assignment I have. But that is not a job, that’s an assignment. I am familiar with such assignments; I’ve done it in the past. The candidate would want me to help him handle a particular aspect of his campaign. We will work on the holistic agenda to win. We know it is not going to be a tea party, we know this election is going to be tough, but we hope for the best and that our candidate will be victorious.
In terms of what next, I’m going to reflect on my experience in the last 12 years, maybe a book, maybe two books will come out of it, I don’t know yet, but maybe a sequel to ‘Out of the shadows’. I will also be spending some time in the universities. One or two of them have asked me to be a Professor of Practice on Governance and Security issues. But the immediate task now is to recharge my batteries.
The roads to Ekiti, whether from Ondo, Aramoko or anywhere else is appalling. Why couldn’t you use your influence as Chairman of Governors’ Forum or as a former minister in the ruling party to fix some of the roads?
First, the immediate response is that we are unhappy about the condition of the Federal roads linking Ekiti to other states and we have decided, as a policy, to take over those roads, using my network and influence, just as I said about development partners, we got money from the development partners, we got in principle support from the African Development Bank to reconstruct the Akure – Ado-Ekiti road and dualise it. But the owners of the road – the FG – blatantly refused.
…Federal Ministry of Works?
Yes, the owners of the road said ‘leave our road alone and if you do it, you cannot toll it and we will not refund you. Just stay off our roads.’ This started in 2018. I was able to convince President Akinwumi Adesina of the AfDB to support the reconstruction of the road because of his own experience travelling on the road when he came to receive a honourary degree from Ade Babalola University and on his way back he called me and said ‘Kayode, I’ve just travelled on your road to catch my flight.
This is horrible’. I said Mr President, you’re correct and I gave him the story of the road and asked him for money (to fix the road), that’s what I’m looking for.’ And then we started talks on the road and other projects in Ekiti. I went to Abidjan and Dr Akinwunmi Adesina pledged to support us but the Federal Government insisted we could not do it.
I am sure you can guess which of my friends. You know who my friend is. He’s the friend I was in the cabinet with, who was also our captain when we were all governors in the South -West.
Does he have the final say on such matters?
Well, I happen to know that they have a Federal Executive Council policy that after paying more than half a billion as refund to states (before I came in), for roads that have been reconstructed by states, a position was taken at FEC, that henceforth, no state should do Federal roads, that they (Federal Government) would fix their roads and they won’t pay any refund to anyone for any unauthorized road reconstruction.
In fairness to the government, it was only President Muhammadu Buhari that ever refunded payments for roads since 1999, and it was across board, it was not selective, it was not partisan. The person who took the highest chunk of the money was (Rivers State) Governor Nyesome Wike who took over N70 billion for refund of roads fixed by previous Rivers governors.
So, you could understand where they were coming from. But it is still inexcusable in this particular instance because we had money. Because they (Federal Government) are the sovereign, African Development Bank cannot give Ekiti money unless the Federal Republic of Nigeria signs off on the money.
So, we then conceded and I then asked the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola), what if we transfer the money to you? The important thing is, fix our road. It doesn’t matter whether it is Ekiti that took the money or you.’
Then we started another round (of talks) and we transferred the ownership of whatever is coming from AfDB to the Federal government. The Federal Ministry of Finance got it and said okay she would sign – this is just paperwork, the money had not come – transferred it back to them, they took possession. AFDB then said fine, it will still be in the Nigerian portfolio.
The Federal Government can take it, but in taking it you must comply with our procurement process. This is global standard procurement process. The Federal Government agreed but the road had by now bern awarded by the FEC to Dantata and Sawoe. So, they accepted to take it over. . Meanwhile, out of the N30b the road was awarded, first year, 2021 or 2020, they gave the contractor N400m out of N30b.
So, contractor used the N400m to mobilise to site. They got their equipment, vehicles, etc. The following year, N1 billion was earmarked for the project in the budget and they started some work. We wanted to do a road, we looked for money to do it, we ran into headwinds and the question to ask yourself is, what is this thing called Federal roads anyway? Because the Ekiti people asking why the roads are bad are right.
They don’t know the difference between Federal roads and state road. As far as they are concerned, the governor is the closest person to them, he’s the one they will hold responsible, even if he does not know anything about it, we will hold him responsible. That is the problem we face. The roads that are not ours, that we wanted to take responsibility for and fix, we were unable to. Yet, we still carry the can, we are the ones being held responsible by the people. T
hey are right. They shouldn’t have to worry themselves that one road is Federal, the other is state, another is local; that is too much stress for the ordinary citizen, they just want roads to be fixed. So, that’s the context of the problem we are grappling with. It is unfortunate.
Now, we have shifted, because they are not ready to follow the AfDB procurement process. The AfDB is still asking for updates up till now. We are now chasing the NNPC, because the NNPC has also started its own tax credit roads.
So, working with the Ministry of Works and NNPC, we have put Ado Ekiti – Akure on the tax credit road, just last week, with the hope that they would accelerate the work and it would still be under the purview of the Federal because that’s what we did for the road between Omuo and Kabba, which we got Dangote to sign up to for tax credit and extend the one they did from Obajana to Kabba to Ekiti boundary. So that’s the nature of our Federal system.
Doesn’t this show that this is the time for a proper restructuring of our system?
(Laughs) You are preaching to the converted.
Your party made restructuring an issue and set up the El-Rufai Committee which recommended restructuring. You campaigned in 2015 with a promise to restructure the country…
It’s an idea whose time has come. It would become a major issue in the 2023 electoral campaign. It is already becoming that. I’ve seen at least candidate Atiku (Abubakar) loudly talking about restructuring. I’ve also seen candidate Peter Obi saying that he wants to restructure, he wants to dialogue with all the agitators and, of course, as you rightly said, it’s always been on our agenda.
But, one thing you can say, maybe by way of defence for our party – but the party spokesman will speak for that not me – is that everything that we said we would do, we have done. The El-Rufai Committee put it in black and white, but that task is not an executive task, it’s a legislative task. The Constitution of Nigeria only empowers the National Assembly to change the Constitution.
We’ve given them those information, we’ve submitted the El-Rufai report to them, we’ve even engaged the principal officers. I was there when the El-Rufai committee and the party submitted it to them and said, ‘Look, we want you to work on this.’ I’ve also seen the proposals on constitutional reforms, in my capacity as Chairman of the Governors’ Forum, I’ve seen the latest decisions that have been transmitted to states.
You know they had to send it to the states for concurrence after they’ve done their bit and in order for states to concur, the 36 governors and the 36 speakers have met to agree on what’s going back to the National Assembly.
So, we completed that exercise about three weeks ago and what has delayed it is that we then insisted, still on this restructuring, that one issue NASS did not put in their own conclusions that we want you to go back and put is state policing, because we got all governors, for the first time to be on the same page on state policing and these are personalities who used to be very reluctant to support State policing.
So, these things are on, not as fast as we would like them to happen, but we cannot be averse to restructuring, definitely me I’ve written, spoken publicly, I’m on record on restructuring, there’s no going back on that.