Dr. John Kayode Fayemi is the immediate past governor of Ekiti State. A few days before leaving office on October 16, he spoke on his achievements, challenges of office, the multi million-dollar support from the African Development Bank (AfDB) to fix the Ado-Ekiti/Akure Road and obstacles from the Federal Ministry of Works, chances of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the 2023 general elections and other issues.
Between when you were elected governor in 2018 for a second term and now that you are leaving office, 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 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.
Was that the perception?
Of course. 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, what did you do?
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.
Could you be more specific?
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 several 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 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 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.
What was your motivation in ensuring the completion of the airport?
Ironically, I was very sceptical about the airport project in my first term, but I became convinced by superior arguments when I set up a committee headed by Chief Afe Babalola to look into the viability of an airport and they concluded with facts that the state could use it to trigger accelerated economic development.
Is that all?
We’ve added new projects. You can add to that the Ado-Iyin dual carriage way. The Agbado Ode Isinbode Omuo road leading to Kogi boundary which was a totally impassable road before we fixed it, ditto the one to Otun from Oye which we have done or Ilupeju Ire Igbemo- Ijan road or the Aramoko – Erininyan – Ikogosi new road. So, we have put in place all of that, the 5MW Independent Power Project, the Knowledge Zone Project which is aimed at catapulting us to the forefront of the digital econony. A lot of that has happened. Also, if you go to our hospitals, all of the hospitals have been redone with new equipment there, including the teaching hospital. The same thing has happened to Ekiti schools including eight new model colleges that we started in order to replace the schools that have gone back to their original owners- the missionaries. So, we built model colleges named after some of our prominent citizens: Deji Fasuan, Ayo Fasanmi, Banji Akintoye, David Oke and such other distinguished citizens of the state. We’ve rebuilt all the water dams in the state, the pipelines for water, and also expanded the opportunities in rural communities with the rural roads that we are just starting under our initiative.
Essentially all these things have happened and they have significantly impacted our people, but I think what has done a lot more for us – to return to the issue of values restoration is the restoration of the known Ekiti character. Whilst we are still in the news, we are not in the news for the wrong reasons. You could almost say that this has been a scandal-free four years. No one could point to anything unethical or untoward that any member of the administration has involved himself or herself in. Besides, the fact that I have also had the rare opportunity to preside over the affairs of Governors as the chair of the Governors’ Forum. This has also reflected positively on the state because, again, the leadership of the Governors’ Forum, for the four years has also been exemplary. No issues, we always spoke with one voice, there were no disagreements, no 16/19 faction, everything went smoothly for that period and we were able to achieve a lot for the sub-nationals, in spite of the fact that 18 months out of the four years I spent, from 2018 to 2022, were completely overtaken by the coronavirus pandemic and for those 18 months, we had workers permanently at home just receiving salaries – not working, through no fault of theirs.
How did you cope?
We cut the salaries of political appointees by 50 per cent in order to cope in spite of the pressure on our revenue, both internally generated and what was coming from the federation purse. And as you may have been aware in the last nine months, we have not even received one naira from the NNPC into the Federation Account, so, the pressure had become almost unbearable. It is a miracle that we were able to pay salaries without missing a single month that even states that are more buoyant are owing workers five, six months during this difficult period. 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 will never forget?
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 N12 billion 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 N3.5m 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 N4m million you’re getting is cash at hand, not N5m that you’re expecting but has not seen and that you may not see if – God forbid – you die before the money eventually comes to you. We 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, N4m cash four years ago will probably be worth just N3m 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 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 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 1 per cent.
How did you do it?
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 $350 millon 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 Federation Account, I use 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 them.
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 hotel capacity of about 5,000 rooms in Ekiti, it is not difficult for the NMA 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 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 the office of 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.
Travelling to Ekiti from neighbouring states, the roads are 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 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 AfDB to support the reconstruction of the road because of his own experience travelling on the road when he came to receive a honorary degree from Afe 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’.
What was your response?
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 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 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 unauthorised road reconstruction. In fairness to the government, it was only President 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 Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State 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 money or you.’
So, what happened?
Then we started another round (of talks) and we transferred the ownership of whatever is coming from AfDB to the Federal Government. The Minister 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 been awarded by FEC to Dantata and Sawoe. So, they accepted to take it over.
But, the road has not been fixed
Out of the N30 billion 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, N1billion 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 Ekiti people are asking why the roads are bad. They don’t know the difference between federal roads and state roads. 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. They 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. Has your party reneged on this?
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.
What about financial restructuring?
The position of the El-Rufai committee mirrors that of the NGF because our position on revenue allocation formula is that it is lopsided in favour of the Federal Government. You cannot give me responsibilities and not give me resources to match the responsibilities. That would amount to tyranny of unfunded mandate and we’ve argued that there has to be a rearrangement of that revenue allocation formula in favour of states and the local government.
What exactly did you propose?
The NGF proposed that the Federal Government retains a lower share and states and local governments have a higher share. Primary healthcare is a state responsibility, basic education is a state responsibility. But if you want to play a role in it, so they say they have something called UBEC or they have Primary Health Care Development Agency to still spend money and coordinate what states are doing. Regulation, yes, but not implementation and operation in those critical segments of the lives of our citizens. So, our position has always been clear on that.
Many Nigerians believe the Buhari administration has disappointed them in so many ways. A lot more people are living below the poverty line. Don’t you see this as likely to affect the chances of your party in the 2023 general elections?
I’m sure the private perception of President Buhari is that things have not worked out in the manner he had envisaged or had hoped they would, without holding brief for him, having been on the other side now for three or four years when I left his cabinet. But I think it’s only fair to say that none of us here ever anticipated anything called the COVID-19 pandemic, not even in our wildest imagination did we know that anything like this would happen to us to lead to the kind of paralysis that our country experienced in the last two and a half, three years. The globe experienced it, not just our country. That clearly contributed to the deleterious impact that the economy is suffering from. That is without prejudice to the policies and plans that many believe the administration ought to have taken on subsidies.
What is your position on fuel subsidy?
The governors have gone on record to say, “Enough, this subsidy is not working.” Yet we know how compassionate President Buhari is and how concerned he is about the fate of the ordinary Nigerians, the Talakawas. But subsidy is not necessarily helping the talakawas. It is helping you and I the middle class and the elite who still drive their big SUVs around and have four, five cars in their garages, not the ordinary people. Somehow, we were unable to convince him, but now, I think he is convinced, I’ve seen a statement lately that this thing is not sustainable, we cannot continue. Oh yes, in his budget speech, he finally made a statement to that effect.
What is the impact of this on your party?
A lot happens to someone who is in office. We may not have all the facts. If I had not told you about the Ado – Akure road and the situation responsible for what had transpired, if you were having that conversation in a beer parlour in Ado Ekiti, you would probably join them in saying ‘This Fayemi is useless! How can he be governor in four years and he cannot even fix a most critical road in his state? Just one road!” Meanwhile, I’ve fixed several kilometers of roads in Ekiti State, but this one road has become my headache (chuckles) through no fault of mine. As I said, I’m not holding brief for the President since I now work at the sub national level. But don’t forget I was Director of Policy, Research and Strategy for APC Presidential Campaign in 2015. A lot of these things were contained in our manifesto, policies and plans, but getting to office, maybe there was information not available to us that the president was privy to, that did not allow him to take certain decisive steps that ordinary Nigerians were expecting him to take. If you’re on that seat, you’ll get so many conflicting advice and information. Even on this little seat that I’m on, I get all manner of pieces of advice that are often driven by the interest of the person giving the advice, not the interest of the overall populace but that is where your judgement comes in as a leader, to be able to decipher, having considered all the factors at your disposal, what finally is going to be in the interest of the people. But then, I don’t think we should worry too much about President Buhari, he is on his way out. It’s only to the extent of its impact on our party, which is your original question. Well on the impact on our party, we will have to explain ourselves to the Nigerian people. We don’t have a choice, it’s a democracy. We’ll ask the Nigerian people to look at the leading candidates and assess them on the basis of their track record, character, competence, capacity, commitment and courage to do the right thing on the Nigeria project and then make their choice. But I am reasonably confident that when you look at all the parameters and when you do your calculations, we (APC) are still going to carry the day, maybe by the skin of our teeth, but we’ll carry the day.