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Arrogance cost Fayemi Ekiti governorship seat –Opeyemi Bamidele

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Hon. Michael Opeyemi Bamidele, a member of the House of Representatives and candidate of the Labour Party in the just concluded governorship election in Ekiti State, speaks on a number of issues arising from the poll, including why the incumbent governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi lost the election.

Were you surprised at the outcome of the election?

I was very surprised. I was surprised because I believe there were probably some things I would still get to understand about that election. A part of the result was given. And the part of the result that was given that didn't surprise me was the fact that Governor Fayemi lost. I didn't need any clairvoyant to tell me that he would lose that election. A lot of people who did not know Ekiti well enough, either as analysts or media consultants to the governor, predicted he would win. Some media organisations even published some poll results, which I believed was unrealistic. It would take someone who understands the psyche of Ekiti people, it would take someone who was within Ekiti to appreciate the extent to which the Fayemi's administration had been rejected by Ekiti people. It would take someone who could appreciate the realities on ground beyond hypes of any kind, including media hypes, to appreciate the fact that APC was going to lose the election in Ekiti because APC had the wrong candidate. And for me, to the extent that I was really sure of that, it wasn't a surprise to me by any means that Governor Fayemi lost that election. It was more of a rejection vote on the part of Ekiti people than anything. It was a question of, if Ekiti people were voting to reject Governor Fayemi, who was going to be the beneficiary? And that was the area in which I could say I was surprised.

But I guess that there is more to it than meets the eye. And it's also a situation where some stories are better left untold at the onset, either for the survival of our democracy, or in the overriding public interest, or security interest. However, I want to say that it was a surprise that 18, 135 votes were recorded for the Labour Party, where I was the candidate. I'm currently in the House of Representatives, and I won an election with 47, 000 votes in two local governments three years ago. I've been entrusted with a mandate. Small as that mandate is, within my federal constituency, to the glory of God, I've done very well for the people. And some of the things that I've done also cut across the state, even beyond the two local governments in my federal constituency. I have no doubt that Ekiti people love me, and I love them tremendously in return. So, definitely, I couldn't have scored 18, 135 votes. But it's a situation where you don't just open your mouth and begin to complain, and begin to talk. You have to understand what to say; you have to be convinced about what to say. A lot of people are still asking questions. If there are puzzles concerning that election, I believe that would be one of the puzzles. And I believe there are puzzles. And like I said, it's a matter for another day.

There was heavy deployment of soldiers in the entire state during the election. Was that necessary?

What we cannot take away from the whole thing is the fact that the election was peaceful, which also meant so much to me. I participated in the campaign for 90 days, and it was 90 days of tumult in the state. It was 90 days of all manners of violence being perpetrated. I was a victim of it. We had to bury one of our supporters in Emure-Ekiti. Definitely, we brought many of our supporters and team members home with machete cuts, with gunshots –all manner of attacks – by thugs, at the instance of the ruling party and government, and as a result of the intransigence of the Governor Fayemi-led administration in the state. They felt it was an affront for anybody to aspire against a sitting governor, who was interested in a second term, and they related with the rest of us at that level. And for me, like we keep saying, it was a form of tyranny of incumbency. And today, looking back, I cannot see how any of us who was a participant in that campaign would oppose the decision of INEC to invite law enforcement agencies to participate massively in that election.

My wish, my desire, my preference as a democrat would be that we hold our elections without having to bring soldiers out of their barracks, because that is not one of their duties. They are to defend our territorial integrity. But with what we saw during the campaign, there was no way any of us could have opposed them. So, to a very large extent, the fact that people could vote without being intimidated and all manners of threats, I think was a plus. The fact that INEC could discharge its responsibilities without intimidation, without people snatching ballot boxes and all that was also an achievement. So, to that extent, I want to say that it was normal while we pray for a time when we'll be able to hold our elections without having to be under military supervision. And that's one of the reasons I keep saying that, at best, what we have today is civilian rule. We're yet to attain the democracy that you and I fought for, that we all desire – a democracy in the true sense of it, founded on the principle of one man, one vote, and as much as possible, rule of law. But when you have rule of force being substituted for rule of law, you can only continue to struggle. And hopefully, the real political transition to democracy is just beginning. So far, at best what we've had is a civilian rule, which is still much better than a military rule.

How would you assess your performance?
Beyond all of these, we should also emphasise the fact that, ultimately, it's not about how many votes we recorded in this election. We were the real change agents in this state. As we have concluded as a party, sometimes it's okay to lose a battle to win a war on the long run. For us, the war that we have to win is a war that is being fought in the overriding public interest. It's a war we are fighting with our guts, with all the courage we can muster, taking all the risks we can take, that there must be internal party democracy which cuts across. It's not about any one party. But let us become a reference point. There must be internal party democracy. And secondly, at the end of the day, we must all struggle to defeat arrogance in power. To whip and defeat mediocrity in power wherever it rears its head.

What's your grouse about Gov Fayemi?
We came to Ekiti in 2007 as a party, then Action Congress of Nigeria, to struggle. It was not just an election, it was a struggle that ran for three and half years, with Dr. Kayode Fayemi as the rallying point. Regardless of what was his background, regardless of what was his experience, regardless of how much money he had, we chose him as a rallying point for that struggle. He was only a symbol, not because he was special to anybody, not because he was even the best. But given the geo-political sentiments of the period, he was the right person. And in any case, we didn't do that without taking to consideration his background as a PhD holder, as a civil society activist, and as somebody who also claimed to be a democracy campaigner and with some level of exposure in Europe and America. We thought we had a credible alternative to what was on ground. And three and half years of that struggle, eventually, from the courtroom, he got sworn in as governor.

We told Ekiti people we were coming to do a collective rescue mission. Ekiti people believed us, the whole world believed us, the media believed us. And three and half years down the line, what did we get out of that administration? Extreme arrogance. The administration became isolated from the rank and file and even from the leadership of the party. The administration chose to rule the state from an Olympian height. And at the end of the day, apart from the fact that the administration became isolated from the possible to kill the structures of the party as well.

And with respect to discharging our social contract with the people, what did we also get? More of media hype than things actually happening on ground in Ekiti, and some infrastructural development that failed to meet the two principal conditions that you must be able to fulfil. One, there must be job creation through infrastructural development. Two, you must grow the economy of the state. How do you create jobs through infrastructural development if the contractors would have to come from outside of Ekiti? And as they're coming, they would bring even the artisans that would work for them from outside of Ekiti. So, if you did road construction, or road repairs, or whatever you did, how many welders in Ekiti could say that they actually participated in the site work? How many bricklayers? How many carpenters? So, essentially, no job creation through that. And this is an administration that had drawn down N25 billion in 18 months to carry out infrastructural development, especially road networks.

So, job creation failed through that. Secondly, to what extent did they grow the economy of Ekiti through the infrastructural development project that they did? How many of our cement sellers could tell how many bags of cement that they sold? How many people selling building materials could say, thank God, they patronised us? Because the government was always bringing foreign contractors, Ekiti people did not feel it. It did not touch on the economy. The economy of the state remained flat on the floor. You didn't grow the economy through it. How can you pump N25 billion into an economy in 18 months and you would not see it on the faces of the people, on the faces of the building materials suppliers, on the faces of the artisans, on the faces of the local contractors? So, the administration became isolated. And beyond all of these is the fact that there was a total disconnect between the administration and its own section of the political class. Like I said, the rank and file of the party, the leadership of the party and other parties. The political class was totally isolated.

Governor Fayemi wanted to build his own structure obviously; so he dissolved the ward exco of the party elected for a four-year tenure. He dissolved them one and half years into office and handpicked his own people into ward executive of the party, into local government executive of the party. There were 41 members in the state executive committee of the party. Without even dissolving the state exco, he removed 37 members of the state exco, left Chief Jide Awe as chairman, his deputy and two other people, four, out of 41. Thirty-seven people gone. Under different guises. All of these would have impact. Tell me, who is your better PRO? It's your party people. Even if you're doing infrastructural development, beyond the media hype, it is the members of your party that would go to town and sell you with passion and defend you with passion. How many of them were involved? There were members of the APC who even voted against Governor Fayemi in this election. So, anyone who was here, and who understands these issues would not need any clairvoyant to tell him that Governor Fayemi would lose. And I warned the leadership of the APC. And I insisted on free and fair primaries to determine who would be the candidate of the party. That is why today, my conscience is very clear.

Why did you do thanksgiving the day after the election?

I did thanksgiving in faith. It was a step of faith. As a Christian, my Bible tells me to give thanks in all things. I didn't start this race behind God. I told God what I wanted to do. I sought His mind. God gave me the spiritual release, the go-ahead. For me, it wasn't just an election; it was a struggle. It would take someone who is familiar with my politics to understand that I had to take a hard decision. It was like moving against the tide within my own political family. But I was convinced about what I wanted to do. And Governor Fayemi tried to take advantage of that, to the extent that even when the leadership of the party at the national level did everything possible to reconcile the differences, Governor Fayemi was very intransigent. Five times the leadership of the party met with us. And my own point was consistent. I said in any democracy, it is the party that puts people in government. It is not the government that will dissolve party exco and start distributing party positions. In the ward exco, virtually everyone agreed with me and said, we were elected at the party's congress, ward congresses, local government congresses, and state congress. We were elected at the congresses by every card-carrying members of the party in direct primaries, as prescribed in the constitution of the party for a four-year tenure. You cannot change us. And they insisted that they were not going to leave.

So, from the moment Governor Fayemi dissolved the ward exco, the party became factionalised in Ekiti. Each time you called a wad meeting, there would now be two in every ward. One meeting with a few people presided over by the ward exco handpicked by Governor Fayemi, and another popular meeting holding somewhere, presided over by those who were elected by card-carrying members of the party. So, when people were saying that ACN was factionalised between Fayemi and Bamidele, no, there was nothing like Bamidele faction. The popular exco elected by the people were sympathetic to my cause. I identified with them. And that was where you had the conventional people – the traditional ACN members who were in the trenches with this governorship candidate who became governor for three and half years and who eventually felt betrayed by the governor. And at the end of the day, when we left ACN for Labour Party, where did we get all the crowd that went with us? Governor Fayemi himself had prepared the ground. And in fairness to the national leadership of the party, I want to say they tried all they could. Five times they met with us. One of the five times, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and Chief Bisi Akande actually flew to Ado-Ekiti in a chopper to appeal to everybody, especially the governor. And the conclusion at that meeting was that the governor should reinstate the members of the ward excos he had dissolved, so that we could have a status quo ante of a situation, and then we'll be back to talk about what we'll do with the primaries. And why did Governor Fayemi remove them in the first instance? It wasn't that he didn't like their faces. He knew that if we were going to have the primaries we were insisting on, it's all these ward exco, local government exco, state exco that would vote. And he had conjectured in his mind that if we went into this, Opeyemi would defeat him in the primaries. And that was why he had to dissolve all of them arbitrarily.

It was for the same reason that he would not let me go to the Senate in 2011. Governor Fayemi became governor of Ekiti State on October 16, 2010, and we held our ACN National Assembly primaries on January 10, 2011. He frustrated my senatorial ambition, just because of the popularity he saw on the streets. He believed that if I went to the Senate, he would not be able to run for second term. He feared that I would compete with him. And because of that, even when I had the senatorial ticket of the party in my hand, having won the primaries, he frustrated it and gave it to Babafemi Ojudu. Till today, he never reinstated the exco that he dissolved. It was like a directive by the national secretariat of the party.

He never reinstated them. And I didn't leave the party. As far as I'm concerned, I never defected from any party. I was a member of ACN till the last day, until those who owned the party said they were done with the party, carried the registration of the party and gave it to INEC and said no more ACN. And they spent the next three months negotiating with the leadership of some other parties to form APC.

I was never a member of APC. I never joined APC. I was a member of ACN till the last day. For three months, I was a party-less member of the House until I decided to register as a member of Labour Party. To me, the lessons are clear. When God takes us to a position in life, we shouldn't allow it to go into our heads. We should not play God under any circumstance. And when we're praying to God to give us a position, we must not forget to also pray for the grace not to abuse or misuse that position. Thirdly, I also think it's important for us in life as we climb, to always be careful what we do with all those that God uses for us to climb at every point, because they will be there on your way down if you have to fall.

What would you say about the perceived second term jinx in Ekiti?          

With due respect to the people who harbour thoughts that a governor cannot get a second term in Ekiti, that sounds puerile and most unscientific. To begin with, no governor should be entitled to a second term, who has not earned it. Second term, to me, should be a way of saying, thank you, by the people. Second tenure should be a gift by the people to a governor. It shouldn't be something that you struggle for; it shouldn't be something that you kill for; it shouldn't be something that you shed blood for. It should not be. You don't have to kill for it. I was a part of the administration of two governors in Lagos State. With the kind of work that was done in Lagos, I don't see how such governors would not have been given a second term. Even when the party was reluctant to give Governor Fashola a second term, it became obvious that the people were going to vote against the party. The party had to give him. That no governor spends a second term in Ekiti is not a tradition. It's just some political superstition.

How old is Ekiti? Ekiti is 17 years old, and we didn't have the advent of this civilian rule until 1999, which even removes the first three years. And in the last 15 years, what have we had? All manners of administration. Political instability. Ekiti has produced more governors than even Ondo State out of which it was created. Ondo State has been in existence since 1976. How many governors have they had? In Ekiti, out of all the governors that we've had, only one, Otunba Niyi Adebayo, had completed his tenure. All the other ones never completed their administration. We've had a three-and-half year administration, a three-year administration, a six-month emergency rule governor, a three-month governor, a one-day governor. Abnormal situations. Aberrations. So you can't talk of a tradition in such a setting like that.

Governor Fayemi had a wonderful opportunity to stop that tradition. He bungled it. PDP was not expecting to come back to power so soon. Because we had a wonderful opportunity to replan the economy of this state, to give hope back to our people. Ekiti is a state of 2.5 million people, above sea level, wonderful terrain. Agrarian community. Highly enlightened people. Easy to govern, but they want you to be sincere with them. They want the truth; they want honesty. They want you to lead by example. It would infuriate them when they read things in the papers. They see all the media hypes. You're creating the impression that Ekiti has become a new London, and they are here in poverty, and nothing seems to be working.

There's no town you can go in Ekiti today where you'll open the tap and water will run. Not in one town. And we have four dams. The first one, Ero Dam, was started by the Adekunle Ajasin administration in the old Ondo State. It was meant to serve the entire Ekiti Province and the northern part of Ondo.

Today, with just Ekiti carved out, Ero Dam cannot even serve one local government. And apart from Ero Dam, we have since had three other major dams. We have Ero Dam, in Ekiti North Senatorial District. We also have the Itapaji Dam within that senatorial district. In Ekiti South Senatorial District, there is Egbe Dam, and in Ekiti Central Senatorial District, we have Ureje Dam in Ado-Ekiti. With four dams, the government cannot even give people water to drink.

When the same Governor Fayose came in 2003, he defeated the AD administration of Otunba Niyi Adebayo because Ekiti people had no water to drink. That was chief among the reasons. And Governor Fayose, as an aspirant, and later as a candidate, came into this state with only one water tanker and was going round fetching water and giving water to the people in gallons to drink. That was the highpoint of his campaign.

And that administration watched helplessly. Today, in 2014, 11 years later, where are we in Ekiti? Still no water to drink. So if some people are saying no governor has spent a second term, it's not about tradition, it's about planlessness. It's about lack of foresight. And I have no doubt that eventually, we'll go beyond these things.

The Sun