Ekiti State governor and Chairman of Nigeria Governors Forum(NGF), Dr Kayode Fayemi recently completed two years in his second tenure in office and spoke on various issues. In an interactive session with some journalists in Lagos, he cautioned that restructuring of the country is the way to go.
What would you consider the gains, challenges, 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 win the state back and then 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 others in the state. It’s therefore clear that we needed 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, “owo arugbo” and the Food Bank, “Ounje arugbo”, as we call it in Ekiti also disappeared. The free health programme for the under-five, over-65, the 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 can 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 Agric 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 open up the state by fixing the feeder roads, linking the farms to the market. Roughly, 1,000 kilometres of rural roads in addition to other agricultural infrastructures have been done.
In terms of roads, one of the most critical roads we have, that some of you have passed and 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. One of the very first things I did on coming back was to secure support of the African Development Bank 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 of Works, Babatunde Fashola to relocate the funds to the Federal Government. The road is now ready for construction and the contractor – Dantata and Sawoe is mobilizing 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 N3.3billion coming from the federation account monthly. When you earn N3 billion and you spend N2.6 to 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.
What about the constraints?
Constraints, 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 is more accountable to the people and responsive to the challenges that the people have.
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 Chairman of Nigeria Governors’ Forum, which is non-partisan. But I’m a member of the APC Governors’ Forum. 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- President 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 Senate President, Omo-Agege; it is our hope that it will not go the way of 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 harmonizing them and come up with a single document, subject it to a national referendum and then 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 agitation for Biafra Republic, Oduduwa Republic, Kwararafa Republic etc ?
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 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 action.
Some extremists would go in the direction of unilateral declaration of independence or secession and its 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.
Do you think the people being attacked in the Middle Belt and other places repeatedly by bandits and herdsmen share this 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 livable, and in making our country livable, 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 Nigerian 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 realizes 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.