Opinion

Tolu Ogunlesi: Did Ekiti Vote For Fayose Or Against Fayemi?

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One morning earlier this year (January, I believe), while having breakfast at a hotel in Abuja, I realised that one of the two men seated at the next table was Ayo Fayose, a former Governor of Ekiti State, now reelected after Saturday’s governorship election. There was no retinue of aides and hangers-on, just the two of them, eating, talking. He cut the perfect picture of the ex-Big Man who has now grown accustomed to a life out of the limelight. I went to say hello, mentioning that I am journalist. He seemed pleased to be recognised, and we exchanged phone numbers.

Barely three or months later, Fayose was back in the big leagues, after winning the Peoples Democratic Party primaries for the governorship election in Ekiti State. The next time I would see him was at his campaign headquarters in Ado-Ekiti, on June 6, where he was surrounded by heavily armed policemen, soldiers and DSS officers, and hundreds of adoring supporters. Intriguing commentary on the unpredictability of life, the “suddenly-suddenly-ness” of it all, to borrow the words of the contemporary urban philosopher, Dapo Oyebanjo.

What struck me again and again while I was at the Fayose campaign office was the outpouring of support for the candidate, to the point of fanaticism. “Fayose is someone we genuinely like in Ekiti,” Odunayo, a 31-year-old artisan and PDP supporter, told me, in Yoruba. “Fayose to me is like a woman you like.” I put questions to him about some of the many allegations associated with Fayose. He had answers for everything; and it was obvious he genuinely believed everything he was telling me. When I mentioned the violence associated with Fayose’s first term in office (2003 – 2006), he said: “That Fayose killed people is a lie. There is no government under which people don’t die. Everyone is destined to die at one time or the other.”

Regarding the allegations of corruption, he said: “We won’t be following Fayose like this if he actually stole Ekiti money; we are intelligent people in Ekiti.” Instead, he said, Fayose actually spent his personal funds on the people. “He’s an honest man.” He was confident that Fayose would win the election, and that he would finally get a chance to do for Ekiti all the things his impeachment had robbed him of the chance to do.

The following day, I got a chance to interview Governor Kayode Fayemi at the Government House in Ado-Ekiti (You may read the interview online at Theafricareport.com). Now, I must start off by saying I’m a big fan of Fayemi. The first time I met him – this was sometime in 2010, before he was sworn in as governor – he mentioned that he was a regular reader of my weekly column in the now defunct NEXT newspaper. I was flattered, as I would be on the two other occasions when I saw him and he would make references to something I had recently written about on this Monday PUNCH column. I am also keenly aware of, and deeply impressed by, his antecedents as a journalist, role he played in the pro-democracy struggle in the 1990s, his extensive clout in international policy and development circles, his unmistakable intellectual bent (you can see clear evidence of that in the interview I had with him), and his commitment, in word and deed, to good governance.

I saw – and still see – him as the sort of politician Nigeria needs in larger numbers, until there is a critical mass of them. And of course, it was shocking to learn that he lost the election on Saturday. A group of friends and I – all Fayemi fans – have spent a lot of time since Saturday debating and pondering over a number of issues relating to the election, and Nigerian politics generally.

The Ekiti election shows quite clearly how complicated politics can be; how much it may actually have more to do with what voters think of you than what you’ve done in office. In an ideal world, a Governor Fayemi – with his strong record of prudent management, innovation, and infrastructural development – should have no problem getting re-elected. But this is not an ideal world.

One okada rider told me that civil servants were complaining bitterly about how Fayemi had made it impossible for them to continue enjoying the “side-money” they enjoyed under Fayose. Of course, I couldn’t convince him that that should have been a great thing, a plus for the governor. As far as he was concerned, it was a valid reason to not vote for Fayemi.

It does seem to me like a great number of Ekiti people genuinely saw Fayose as the man most likely to defend them and their (admittedly mostly pecuniary) interests; who would most generously spread the ‘food’ around; who was most given to being ‘a man of the people’. Indeed, Fayose’s campaign posters revolved around the message that he was the “friend of the masses” and “friend of the common-man”. Odunayo also told me: “Fayose has human feelings, you don’t need to tell him your problems before he knows them.”

Those seemed to be widespread perceptions among Ekiti residents, deeply believed to such an extent as to overshadow Fayemi’s many achievements on another scale. And let’s face it, the fact that the stated reasons behind the overwhelming choice Ekiti people made on Saturday might seem illogical or unfortunate to many of us who self-affirm as ‘enlightened’ does not take anything away from the solid reality and evident authority of those reasons. You might not agree with how Ekiti voters came to the decisions they made, but you can neither convincingly accuse them of not consciously think about those decisions, nor justifiably argue that the decisions were wholly bought with bags of rice and salt distributed at the 11th hour.

There are related questions that may need answering. For example, did Ekiti State electorate vote for Fayose, or did they vote against Fayemi? (There is a difference, I believe). Would they have voted this enthusiastically even if Fayose wasn’t on the ballot? What role did party affiliations play? How would things have played out were Fayose to be the candidate of a lesser-known party, without the intimidating financial and logistical support of the PDP? And, to stretch things somewhat improbably, what would have changed were the incidence and extent of poverty to suddenly and remarkably fall across Nigeria?

My final question to Fayemi in the June 7 interview was: What will you do if you lose the election? His answer: “In the event that I lose the election in a free, fair and credible manner, I would congratulate the winner, and I would support the winner to achieve progress for our people. I’m in this for Ekiti, I have an alternative address.”

That answer impressed me, but I didn’t expect any less from him. As things sadly turned out, he lost, and he has since accepted defeat and congratulated Fayose. I wish him all the very best as he prepares for life as an ex-governor. The last seven years have been hectic, first fighting for his mandate, and then running the state. Now, he will have some quiet, to rest and read and write, and to reflect on his impressive political journey. I would like to see him run for Governor of Ekiti State again, in 2018, when Fayose’s second and final (by constitutional provisions) term comes to an end. Something tells me Ekiti will welcome Fayemi once again, as Kano did to Rabiu Kwankwaso in 2011, and as Ekiti has just done to Peter Ayodele Fayose.

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Article written by Tolu Ogunlesi, On twitter @toluogunlesi and Culled from his blog

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