Saturday, July 5, 2014 10:11 pm
By Oluwatoba Oguntuase
The myth of Ayodele Fayose’s staging of a comeback to Ekiti Government House may have been with us long before now, without necessarily knowing it. At a public function in Abuja on 28 November 2013 a young lady who sat next to my left was noticed, repeatedly making calls to a certain number. She appeared disturbed, apparently trying to reach someone but wasn’t getting through. It was the high-point of the occasion when perfect tranquility and attention were expected in the hall and her exasperation was almost causing me some discomfiture. Suddenly, I saw some mischievous smile creep into her face and she immediately lowered her head and began to talk in whispers. Even though she shook the table unconsciously as she talked on the phone, disturbing me further, I had heaved a sigh of relief that her call had gone through and we could at least now concentrate on the address of the chairman to that august occasion. I was wrong!
“Can I please use your phone? My battery has gone flat and the call I’m making is very important. Please!” The lady said to me and I obliged her. After the call, she handed back my phone to me thankfully, and smiling. My curiosity was aroused and I promptly asked; “who were you so desperate to reach on phone?” “My mum,” she responded and continued, “she just confirmed to me that the chairman of the reception for my thanksgiving party, the incoming governor of Ekiti State, has just landed in town. I’m happy because he wasn’t sure he would attend as at yesterday.”
“The incoming governor of Ekiti state! Who is this person?” I had asked curiously, and attracting the attention of the young man sitting next to my right who coincidentally is, as this writer, an Ekiti indigene. “Governor Ayo Fayose”, she had replied with a confidence so terrific that the two of us sitting at the table were dazzled but we had simply smiled in disbelief. Not only because Mr. Ayodele Fayose had not even secured the gubernatorial ticket of any political party as at that time was her assertion incredible but also because this lady, an Igbo girl who schooled and lived abroad looked too young to make such a confident assertion on Ekiti politics; and in a manner that we ‘the sons of the soil’; could not have done!
When Fayose won the June 21 Ekiti governorship election in a shocking landslide, my mind went back to our last November discussion and I had simply sent the lady a mail, expressing my surprise at her seeming prophetic declaration. Replying my mail from her UK base, she had said: “I told you he is the next governor of Ekiti. I know it because my dad told me he would be the next governor?”
Well, I never asked her who her dad is and how he had got to know that much. It is absolutely irrelevant at this time. What is important is that their prediction had turned into reality, whether by faith, hard work or by some stroke of luck, whatsoever. But that is by the way!
The 21 June 2014 election in Ekiti will for a long time continue to be a subject of debate among political scientists. Out of the total votes of 360,455 cast in that election, Mr. Ayodele Fayose of the PDP polled 203,090 votes, defeating Dr. Kayode Fayemi of the APC and the incumbent governor who polled 120,433 votes and Mr. Bamidele Opeyemi of the LP who came a distant third with only 18,135 votes. Fayose did not just lead all the other nineteen contestants in the election, he also won in all the 16 local government areas of the state, including in Oye, the local government where the incumbent governor comes from, in a manner reminiscent of the annulled June 12, 1993 presidential election in which the late Chief MKO Abiola of the SDP reportedly defeated his opponent, Alhaji Bashir Tofa of the NRC nationwide; including in Tofa’s local government in Kano.
There are, of course, some striking similarity drawn between the 2014 Ekiti election and the 1993 presidential election by some writers, opinion leaders and political analysts before and after the last month’s election.
In “Like Ekiti, like June 12” (The Guardian, Tuesday, June 24, 2014), Ehichioya Ezomon wrote that the “governorship election in Ekiti State almost passed the test of the June 12, 1993 presidential poll… The June 21 poll in Ekiti came out in similar fashion, in terms of its freeness, fairness and credibility… the election was going to take place in the same June, just two days from the day that the military finally annulled the June 12 poll, with the announcement of its results earlier suspended by the regime on June 14, 1993.” Ezomon further alluded to the fact of the palpable fear of violence that characterized the weeks preceding the Ekiti election and made reference to the warning given by the Catholic Bishop of Ekiti Diocese, the Most Reverend Felix Ajakaiye in a statement titled “Between June 12 and June 21,” which he issued on June 12, 2014 (9 days before the Ekiti Gubernatorial Poll) in commemoration of the anniversary of the 1993 election.
The Reverend Father had said: “This year is the 21st celebration of June 12 and on Saturday, June 21, 2014, there will be Governorship Election in Ekiti State, the Land of honour. Both numbers, 12 and 21, are special and if we interchange them, putting 2 before 1, 12 become 21, and when we put 1 before 2, 21 becomes 12. Thus, both dates are symbolic.”
All these facts, though parts of the reasons why the 2014 Ekiti governorship election is important to political historians; are not the only factors that will continue to make it a subject of great interest to scholars and researchers for a long time. Ekiti, essentially, remains a peculiar case study.
In a state-wide broadcast accepting defeat and congratulating the winner, shortly after the declaration by INEC of the results of the 21 June, 2014 gubernatorial election in the state, Fayemi, the incumbent and outgoing governor of Ekiti State stated that: “The task of understanding how the outcome of this election has defined us as a people will be that of scholars. For us as an administration and a cadre of political leaders in Ekiti State, we have fought a good fight, we have kept faith.”
There have since been avalanche of opinions by analysts, politicians and the media with each pontificating on why they think the incumbent governor, whose administration is rated locally and internationally as highly performing and development-orientated; lost to another candidate from an opposition party. I am highly inclined in this piece to disagree with the various views that have been expressed. Looking critically at the above statement, it shows that Fayemi really understands the nature of his people but most of the various commentators have got much to study about the political behavior of an average Ekiti man.
Ekitis are known to be stubbornly principled, especially on the values they treasure; justice, fairness, honesty, boldness, frankness, and humility in success. When they believe in a course, they are unyielding and hardly convinced to consider alternatives or compromise their collective stand no matter what. Whether this is actually their Achilles’ heel or a paragon of virtue, however, remains a hot topic of sociological research.
As for me, Ekiti people’s often common stern resolves on issues are not just out of sheer stubbornness but of strong moral consideration. An average Ekiti man is simple, content, frank, and to quote Ademola Adegbamigbe in “Level Playing Field” (TheNEWS, 9 June, 2014), they “are peace loving. They love their women, pounded yam and heady palm wine. And they are highly cultured. However, it is when there is an attempt to cheat them that they can react with the fury of molten magma.”
All these were instrumental to the way the June 21 governorship election went and not the widespread but shallow views; which many commentators have expressed as to what was responsible for the behaviour of the Ekiti electorates.
At a meeting in which I was in attendance somewhere in Ikeja, Lagos on Monday, 23 June 2014, two days after the Ekiti election; a popular civil society figure and lawyer while admonishing the new executive members of the association of some ‘learned gentlemen’; said they should make sure they are not alienated from the people: “You must be very close to the people and not stay in your comfort zone. Do not behave like the politicians who hide in their high offices without having personal touch with the people. I was in Ekiti at the weekend to monitor the election and from what we saw; Fayemi lost the election despite his outstanding performance for this reason.” As plausible and as widespread as this view appears, it is not true. There is no basis for comparing Fayemi and Fayose in terms of the level at which they socialise, as no two people are exactly alike. Fayose had a common touch while he was in office, no doubt, freely mixing with market women and Okada riders alike. So also has Fayemi, supported by a wife globally acknowledged as a social entrepreneur and human empowerment agent, touched the lives of the common people in the last four years in his own style; with developmental projects even as he also held various meetings with the informal sector players during his campaigns across all the 16 local governments of the state. There is therefore more to the issue than are being debated.
I have also read the communiqué issued by the National Working Committee of the APC in which the party alleged that though, there was no violence or manipulation recorded on the election day but that the process that preceded the poll was characterised by violence and human rights violations, orchestrated against its members and supporters by federal powers and according to Alhaji Lai Mohammed; these acts intimidated the electorates into voting, albeit peacefully, against their popular wish and hence; PDP’s victory and APC’s loss.
In Mohammed’s words: “Election is a process, and whatever happens on the voting day is only an integral part of that process. What happen before, during and after the voting day complete that process. Voting in Ekiti may have been free of the usual violence or manipulation at the collation centres, but the election in the state was neither free, fair nor credible…”
While I support the APC’s resolve to challenge in court the various human rights violations allegedly committed against its members by military and Para-military forces, I beg to disagree that even if these are proven to have taken place, they had any influence on the way Ekiti electorates voted. Fayose was simply the people’s choice for whatever reason, and they have massively voted for him. I will return to this later.
There is also another school of thought that believes that Fayemi is good in the art of infrastructure but poor in ‘stomachstructure’ and then advocates for a mixture of the two as the only way Fayemi would have endeared himself to the people for a second time. Stomachstructure, a euphemism for politics of the stomach is not only derogatory, but also incompatible with the sterling virtues widely associated with the Ekitis. Some claim that Fayose is well schooled in stomachstructure and even have gone further to deride the person of the governor-elect as having learnt the skill from both Chief Lamidi Adedibu, the “Alafin of Molete” and generalissimo of Ibadan politics and his Ilorin counterpart, the “Baba Oloye ”, Chief (Dr.) Olusola Saraki both men of blessed memories. Again I repeat that this view is demeaning and preposterous and can give rise to liability for defamation, at the action of the owners of the various notable names associated with this by such critics. The conscience of a true Ekiti man cannot be bought with money even when he is offered cash and he collects. His stand remains unchanged. There were allegations of food items and cash gifts freely flowing from the camps of the three major political parties to attract electorates who in turn, are said to have a tradition of always gathering and applauding the candidates at the various campaign grounds irrespective of their political parties. These are the complexities of the behavioral politics from the Fountain of knowledge.
Again, there is what many arm-chair critics describe as the “Bourdillion Factor’’. A phrase apparently referring to the APC leadership from Lagos and a way of showing resentment towards the widely perceived Bola Tinubu’s control of South West states as godfather. But no aspirant in any political party in Nigeria today can be said to be free from “godfatherism” and so, it is not an Ekiti or APC thing. Also, at this stage of our political development, and of course in all nations of the world, political mentoring, popularly known in this clime as godfatherism is globally encouraged. Any leader without a mentor is not likely to be humble in success and may at some stage begin to see himself/herself as a demigod. Some at times go to the extreme, especially beer-parlour and news-stands’ analysts, to claim that resources with which Lagos is being developed are channeled from the South West states; and that Ekiti people are saying enough is enough to APC because of this. One cannot but marvel at the sublime confidence with which this argument is marshaled. How on earth can Lagos, where IGR from just one local government, say Apapa or IKeja for example, would dwarf the entire resources from Ekiti; be financed by the latter? These assumptions are not the real reasons why APC lost the June 21 election and, well, the people have to say something, anyway.
Why then is Ekiti politics a hard nut to crack? Is Fayemi not loved by his people? Or do the people love Fayose more than they love Fayemi? Has the JKF Administration brought development to Ekiti? If yes, do the people then resent development? If most of the reasons given for Fayemi’s loss of the election are delusions, why then did he fail to return for a second term? A brief anthropological dissecting of the Ekiti political history will answer these questions better.
Let me begin by stating that Ekiti people do not hate Fayemi. They love him and popularly refer to him in the local dialect as ‘Omo Ayiye’’, meaning; our illustrious and worthy son. His administration is equally well applauded as having brought development to a state commonly known for peasant farming and civil service in spite of having reputation for producing highly educated citizens. Fayemi’s giant strides in opening other sectors like tourism; encouraging the springing of the Organized Private Sector; developing SMEs; empowering youth and women; providing local and international scholarships for Ekiti students; building road, schools, hospitals; laying other infrastructure; and establishing the first ever social security scheme for the elderly among others all within four years; have truly made the people to love him. This was reflected in the mammoth crowds that usually greeted his various campaigns up till Thursday preceding the June 21 election.
But the Ekitis love it more, that a man should quit the stage when the ovation is loudest. Literarily, when a good dancer is thrilling the crowd of spectators; they widely applaud him but if he refuses to quit the stage, they are quick to ask rhetorically; “se oye udile ran ni? Meaning; is it his ancestral right? They hardly serve a man twice at a stretch. They are not known to follow a fanciful idea perpetually. They say; “let’s try his brother lest his achievements go into his head!” This was why Otunba Adeniyi Adebayo, an incumbent governor of the state also lost in similar fashion to the present governor-elect, Mr. Ayodele Fayose in 2003 despite Adebayo’s aristocratic background and the strong support of the South West leaders and AD chieftains of that time like Senator Abraham Adesanya, Chief Bola Ige, Chief Olu Falae etc.
Let no one think that Fayose’s election for the second time is a breach of the age-long principle of his people. No! Fayose was widely believed to have been unjustly removed from office in his first time and thereby prevented from serving out his full term. Ekiti people will go to any length to remedy any perceived injustice done to any of their own. They hate betrayal with a passion, and are always irrevocably loyal to a common course; even if it will hurt a loved one.
In 1983, when Ekiti was still subsumed in the old Ondo State, Chief Akin Omoboriowo, an Ekiti man who was Deputy to Governor Adekunle Ajasin (who hailed from Owo) between 1979 and 1983; was seen to be rebellious and untrustworthy when he betrayed Chief Obafemi Awolowo and the UPN to contest against his party as the NPN flag bearer in the 1983 Ondo State gubernatorial election. It is on record that Omoboriowo’s kith and kin in Ijero-Ekiti were the first to warn him that “if he wins, he won’t be alive to rule.” When eventually Omoboriowo won the election allegedly through the backing of federal might, it was first in Ekiti that violence broke out, leading to burning down of houses and displacement of many people in a crisis that was later christened “operation wetie.” The trouble continued until the court nullified that election and restored Ajasin into office. Ekiti people, though loved Omoboriowo their son, would not tolerate his act of betrayal and repudiate their loyalty to Awolowo. They detest oppression, arrogance, rule by force; and have a long history that dates back to the Kiriji War and the Ekiti Parapo War in the 1880s; of an unusually resolute stand to always fight a common course.
Similar scenario was just played out in Ekiti on 21 June 2014. Fayose’s supportive roles in the court-ordered Ekiti governorship re-run election in 2009, and in the legal battle thereafter to reclaim Fayemi’s mandate; were widely noted. So, the refusal of Fayemi to support Fayose’s senatorial bid on the platform of the then AC was in the same vein widely seen as an act of betrayal. In the case of Bamidele, who remained pertinacious inspite of his ACN associates’ advice to drop his gubernatorial ambition and allow Fayemi have an unchallenged second term, and consequently defected to LP to run against his friend and incumbent governor; Ekiti electorates also gathered at his various campaigns but decided on the election day to give him the Omoboriowo treat. This fervent cultural hatred by the Ekitis for betrayal, cheating, in justice, only-me-syndrome, demigod illusion, and their penchant for always trying to correct such were the reasons why Fayose carried the day, and defeated Fayemi, Bamidele, all APC stalwarts and the other seventeen contestants even in their various local governments. Fayose was therefore massively voted as the next Ekiti governor because the people love him, but not because they love him more than they love Fayemi or any of the other contestants for that matter!
There are lessons in all of these for us to learn, as Ekiti indigenes, Nigerians, and students of political history?
One: INEC must not be deluded into believing that the success of the election was made possible by its ingenuity or mere competence. That was not so! The success recorded of the poll was as a result of the electorates’ determination, guided by their invariable principles, to speak with one voice irrespective of the inducements flowing from the various political camps. So, as the Osun gubernatorial poll and the general elections approach next month and next year respectively; Prof. Jega and his team must gird up their loins if they are to gain the trust of Nigerians.
Two: Those who are congratulating Fayemi for his rare spirit of sportsmanship though are doing the right thing, must stop calling on all politicians to follow in his footsteps in all future elections no matter the case. This will not work in all situations. Fayemi did not just accept defeat with magnanimity; he was able to do that because the mandate to govern Ekiti for the next four years was seen to have been freely and fairly given to his opponent. Remember it was not so in 2007 when he engaged Engr. Segun Oni (now his political ally) and the PDP in a three and half year legal battle. So, potential election riggers who are advocating for unconditional surrender by all “defeated” contestants in future elections should have a re-think.
Three: The PDP in Ekiti should stop bragging around town about the victory so far recorded. They should, instead, get down to brass tacks and begin to plan with the governor-elect on how to make great strides in the state in the next four years. They must not forget that one political party has scarcely won election in the state for two consecutive times. They should ponder on the events of the 2003, 2007/2010, and the 2014 Ekiti gubernatorial polls.
Four: Fayemi should remain in his current state of maturity and magnanimity in defeat. He should note that like he has said; “he has fought a good fight and kept faith.” I have known him long before he became governor through news of his pro-democracy activities and especially from his intellectual works and various scholarly essays on human development; fragility and conflict; and global peace and security. His wealth of experience will be needed even out of office to further move the state and indeed Nigeria forward.
Five: APC should forget its grievances, and like its candidate, allow peace to reign in Ekiti. This should be a time for sober assessment for the party and not unnecessary altercation. A period to re-strategise on how to come back stronger, tomorrow.
Six: Bamidele should not be discouraged and neither should he loose hope. His wealth of experience too is needed in developing Ekiti. He must learn from Fayose by staying with his people and not become an Abuja or Lagos politician in the next four years. If Ekiti people can be assured of his loyalty again, they will rally around him next time. I see in him a future governor of Ekiti.
Seven: Fayose must know that he is a child of great destiny being the only person ever to have defeated two incumbent governors in elections. But he must not allow this to delude him with the sense of a demigod. He must see himself as the people’s servant, not lord. As someone who is ‘repeating a class’ here, I want to trust his level of maturity and experience. It is good that he has said that his administration will continue with the developmental projects of the outgoing government. This will enhance the development of the state. The incoming governor must also surround himself with only aides who will be sincere, selfless, and are knowledgeable enough in analyzing situations and proferring solutions to them; and those who will tell him the truth without hypocrisy. With these, the “Osokomole” will have written his name in gold in four years time. I wish him the best.
In conclusion, those who are commenting on the Ekiti election, especially those expressing shock and bitterness, or blaming certain persons for what happened or failed to happen are advised to rest their case. This is because Ekiti is a nation of a peculiar people, and their politics is a tale of the more you look, the less you see – A mystery for the esoteric mind.
Oguntuase, a lawyer and development-policy analyst is the founder; Oladog Policy and Research Communications.