Governor of Ekiti State and chairman of Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), Dr. Kayode Fayemi, is celebrating two years into his second tenure as helmsman. He spoke with some senior journalists in Lagos on issues of development challenges and opportunities in Ekiti and how he has opened up the state as investment destination for big businesses. He harped also on the tyranny of unfunded mandates as driver of agitation for fiscal federalism, power devolution and providing opportunities urgently for young people, who may have opted out of the country psychologically. ANOTE AJELUOROU reports.
• Many of our young people have opted out of Nigeria psychologically
• Tyranny of unfunded mandates as driving force for fiscal federalism, power devolution
Is 2023 possible without restructuring given agitations 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 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 per cent of Nigerians are under 30. They are not interested in this egomaniacal pursuit 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, and when you look also at the insecurity complex, there is a nexus. Lack of development, lack of jobs and insecurity that we are grappling with, whether with the insurgency-infested Northeast or the banditry-ravaged Northwest or the kidnapping-consumed Southeast and Southwest 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 communities. 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, are 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 would you consider to be the gains, challenges, and 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, was 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 had 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 and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, to relocate the funds to the Federal Government. The road is now ready for construction and the contractor – Dantata and Sawoe – is mobilising to site. 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 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. 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 taps running in Ekiti up to the early 1970s 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.
In housing, we are in partnership with the United Nations, to develop 50,000 affordable houses within the next 10 years. Of course, that would be beyond my term of office, but it is an MoU that has enabled us to establish a special purpose vehicle that would not be affected by any transition, because it is a public-private partnership.
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 problems as a result.
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. 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 Muhammadu Buhari. Federal roads that had been fixed for the past 20 years and not one naira paid by the governments of Presidents (Olusegun) Obasanjo, (Musa) Yar’Adua and (Goodluck) Jonathan had 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 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 medium scale basis. The federal government can always borrow to cover any shortfall but sub-nationals cannot, except we go through the FG.
Wearing my other hat as the Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, 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.