By NBF News
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Ekiti State Governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi, was at the corporate headquarters of The Sun Publishing Limited in Lagos on Thursday on a courtesy visit and fielded questions during an interactive session with senior editors of The Sun titles. He bares his mind on some national issues as well as on his stewardship.

How comfortable or otherwise are you with the Justice Ayo Salami issue when the impression has been created that your mandate and that of the Osun governor were purchased?

I have never had any reason to feel uncomfortable about it because I know what many people probably didn't know; that I have never met Salami in my life. Till now I have never seen Salami anywhere. I cannot recognise him on the street if I came across him.

But more fundamentally for me is that what exactly did Salami do? When you read the judgement on the Ekiti governorship election, I know many legal minds who have read the judgement and came to the conclusion that on point of law and substance, there is no way the case can be faulted. But what exactly happened in Ekiti that did not happen under Justice Umaru Abdullahi in Edo or Ondo states?

Was Justice Salami the first person that declared previous election null and void, and allowed someone else to take over the reins of power? I don't think so.

I don't know anyone who was remotely or directly involved in Ekiti State in 2007. Luckily, it was probably the most covered. In fact, in the international press it was the most covered, because I have a lot of people there. New York Times was in Ekiti during the 2007 election, the Independent of London was there; BBC was there, Radio Netherlands, all of them were present. So they saw it. I don't think there is rocket science about what happened in Ekiti.

Let me give you a very direct take on that. When the rerun election was declared in favour of my brother, Segun Oni (that is, the popular Ayoka (Adebayo) saga), you would think a major disaster had befallen Ekiti State that day, and there was no way even those who were declared (winners) celebrated. They went into a little run and Segun Oni was sworn in. If you were in Ekiti on October 15, 2010; you weren't but your reporters were there and they gave a sense of what transpired. It was what lawyers call les ipsa loquito because it was clear where Ekiti people stood on this issue.

I believe the whole saga is making a statement about our judiciary; not a statement about that particular judgement. If officials of the judiciary fell out for one reason or the other and wanted to use some other things to justify that, I have no comment on that. I know and I am convinced without any shade of doubt in my mind that the April 14, 2007 (governorship) election in Ekiti was won squarely by the Action Congress of Nigeria. And the re-run election that followed on April 26 and May 6, 2009 was also won by us. I don't think there is any case about that. When you look at the crisis that the (Oni) government went through in its three and half years and compare it with the relative peace Ekiti has enjoyed in the last one year, I don't think it is even a matter to agitate the mind of anybody.

Finally, when you compare what happened nationally in that election and you saw the number of cases filed; they filed 1862 cases. In Ekiti alone we had 110 cases filed on the 2007 election. Do you know the number of cases filed in Ekiti in the last election? Two. I think you can do a scientific analysis of what transpired in 2007 and what has been going on with our electoral experience. It is still not perfect but clearly what happened in 2011 was better than what happened in 2007, and you don't even have to read WikiLeaks to reach that conclusion. It is one you can reach on the street.

Ekiti is not a particularly rich state but you have agreed to pay the new minimum wage. How cosy is it paying N18000 minimum wage?

You are right; Ekiti has a lean purse. But minimum wage has become a matter of duty and honour, even for those of us who were not part of the negotiation that led to minimum wage agreement. Government is a continuum. The Governors Forum met with Labour and decided that we must honour the Act because we cannot be seen as governors to be promoting illegality.

It is a law of the land and we just must respect it. It is the how of respecting it that becomes a duty for us. And as for as many of us are concerned, at our party level we have said we should pay the minimum wage. At the national level, the governors are also committed to paying the minimum wage. In our case, we feel we shouldn't have a narrow, just simple monetary definition of it, even though that is what is happening. N18000 is not a living wage anyway. $120 does not carry anybody far. Even those who work in downside Ekiti, not to talk of a room in Lagos, we know what it cost.

But the issue for many states is if you are transferring the burden and responsibility of many things to the states, then you should also transfer the resources. So, when you talk of minimum wage, governors are talking of a re-ordering of the national revenue allocation formula. They are also saying that it really ought not to be the President that determines the minimum wage in their states if this truly is a federal entity.

How do you define a minimum wage in a state like Ekiti, for example, where in the last one year students that are in university have had their tuition fee reduced from N200,000 in the case of Sciences and Medicine or N150,000 for those in the Humanities to N50,000? That means an average worker who has two kids in the University of Ekiti would have had on average a N200,000 saving on what he would have ordinarily paid on his two wards.

So, we need to have a round understanding of this, beyond this game of numbers, even after we agree to pay it so we don't come to it again in another ten years. This was the debate in 2000 that we came to in 2011, and will probably come in another decade.

Why don't we work out a formula that is realistic and appropriate? I don't know anywhere in the world where it applies across the board. Minimum wage in countries that pioneered it is usually for the lowly paid, the long-tenured workers. It is not across the board, and I don't know any governor who has a problem with honouring the minimum wage for those below N18000 right now.

Majority of those concerned are those on levels one to six in the public service, who are earning about N9000 in the current wage and will have their salaries doubled to N18000. That is a 100 per cent increase. Do you then apply that 100 per cent to permanent secretaries on level 17 consolidated? There is no way I can do that.

I can just go and throw in the towel and resign because I have no way of getting that kind of resources. That is the point most governors are making when they talk about the challenge they are facing. It is not addressing the lower end of the scale, because everybody realizes that even with the N18000 the lower end will still struggle. It is about applying this across the board.

There is also the question of who decides the minimum wage? Do you take account of other social benefits? Because I could argue that I brought minimum wage in Ekiti averagely up to about N50,000 if I look at the benefits that workers have gained since I became governor because all the things that were cancelled by my predecessor I have brought them back.

They now enjoy car loan and housing loan. These are practical questions that I think also the media needs to engage. But, I guess governors have a bad image, generally speaking. So, nobody wants to give them the benefit of the doubt. After all, if it is the money they are stealing, the security vote, let them use a lot of it to pay the minimum wage, at least they will not be stealing that again. It misses out on the fundamental issues and as opinion moulders and leaders, I think you hold a duty to the country, not to the governors, to begin to approach this debate from another perspective. Not to discountenance the importance of the minimum wage but look at all its ramification for us in the country.

What are some of the things you have learnt in almost one year in office now?

I don't want to say I haven't learnt anything. Perhaps because I had a long time working for this on the legal side, I also have the opportunity to have reasonably adequate information. Ekiti is a small place. It also as you stated a very conscious society. People are literate; everybody knows what is happening. They exaggerate the views but they know, broadly speaking, the fundamentals, and they also have opinions. We have 2.3 million people in Ekiti, and I can assure you that you can get 2.3 million opinions on any average issue in the state.

I also had an advantage when I wasn't in government. We had a split House of Assembly. So my own colleagues in the House of Assembly always had information about what is going on in government, which we also work on and prepare. For example, every year throughout the time Mr Oni was in office, we had alternative budget, prepared on the basis of information given to us by the honourable members. But with all that, I didn't really realize the depth of the crisis.

I didn't realize that we had many abandoned projects, for example, or that we have that huge amount of money unpaid to contractors or vendors in Ekiti. But, then, governance is not about complaints. If we have a programme, as we do, of making poverty history in Ekiti, we cannot get into office and start giving excuses for inaction. We have to be creative and innovative in reorganising the state and plugging the leakages that were there before we got in, and that is really what we have been concentrating on.

The other thing I have learnt is that as somebody from the civil society, there is a lot of harrow around people in the executive arm of government, which I don't think is necessary and I think the media really need to help us with. All these superficial, honorific, Excellency, executive governor, retinue of vehicles, we really need to do something about that. I'm sad that the media also celebrates these; maybe not the mainstream media.

It appears to me we have not left the psyche of militarism, in which those in office are just treated with excessive attention. Of course, when you are a governor, you get attention. But nothing has really changed about you. You don't have two heads now. You don't have four legs; you are still the same person. I think we need to begin to demystify power and casualise it in a way that we will not bend or turn those occupants into swollen heads and people who believe that they are the best things that has happened to society. I have learnt that and on my own part I try to do it in a simple way.

I think many of us actually. If you don't mind my saying so, in our party we try to do it by not using siren; by not being called Excellency and all these silly things in our states; by basically trying to maintain a very modest, decent approach to government, in which you make yourself accessible as much as possible to the people, without all the security apparatus that is often forced on you.

When you were pursuing the case and the rerun election, you sort of teamed up with the former governor, Ayo Fayose, who you had fought to a standstill when he was in office. But now there has been a parting of ways again, with him going back to the PDP. Is it because you didn't keep a pact, like we learnt? For instance, he wanted to go to the Senate and the agreement was that your party was not going to run against him, but you did and your party won. So if he teamed up with you, so to speak, to fight a common enemy, why didn't you keep your side of the bargain?

Well, there has been no parting of ways. I still talk to former governor Ayo Fayose. You will recall that at the time that he decided to support me, he always insisted that he was supporting Kayode Fayemi. He was not an ACN member and we respected that. Anyone, who wanted to support me, particularly someone that I had fought to a standstill; that I participated in the process that led to his impeachment, that was a display of generosity of spirit on his part and he has to be commended for it. But there was no deal. At no point did I enter into any deal for the senatorial seat to be ceded away to someone running outside my party.

There was some discussion around it and I encouraged him to join the party if he wanted to run for the senatorial seat, because it will be anti-party on my part to support someone who is not a member of my party for a seat that my party also coveted. There just was no way I could have defended that.

The other thing at that time was that every single person who had been governor in the state was actually in my support. So, it wasn't strange that he decided to join Governor Olumiluwa or Otunba Niyi Adebayo. I think he knew where Ekiti people were and he didn't want to be on the wrong side of Ekiti people.

That is all former Governor Fayose did and I am grateful to him for it. I give him respect as a former governor in the state and I try as much as possible not to engage in any verbal gymnastic over the relationship.

As for his moving to another party, well, I think he is pretty mobile. He has been through six parties in the last six, seven years. I think we should also give him some credibility for that, that he malleable to the point that he could ideologically blend with a variety of parties. From PDP to PPA to ANPP to LP back to PDP and with some dancing without embracing with the ACN. I wish him well in his party.

Have you settled the controversy over the location of the federal university sited in Ekiti?

We have agreed to disagree with the federal government and commend the President for also showing respect for our point of view that the authority of the state could not be undermined by simply siting projects sitting in Abuja, with no consideration for state governments. In the Nigerian Constitution, the only person who has land vested in him or her is the governor of a state. The President agreed and we have decided to have a two-campus university in both communities affected – Ikole and Oye.

Has it taken off?
None of them has really taken off, not even the one in Otuoke (Bayelsa State). Probably in January or June, they will take off.

Unemployment is a big issue all over the country. Are you doing anything to employ your PhD holders?

Unemployment is a big issue, and we have poverty as the major challenge we must tackle. Really, some of our PhD holders are not fully employed in their areas of expertise.

It has more to even do with the youths, because these are the idle hands that are available for all kind of nefarious activities if they are not occupied and that was what informed our Volunteer Corps Scheme in Ekiti, which has today recruited 5000 university and polytechnic graduates to various occupations in the state. Is that enough? No, but our resources are lean. We are looking for a more enduring approach to tackling the unemployment issue and our biggest opportunity lies in agriculture. That is what we have going for us. If we accelerate integrated agriculture in the state and also link it to what our colleagues are doing in other states within the South West regional integration agenda, I think we will be able to tackle unemployment. We will need to do agriculture as a serious business, not as farming.

Farming is largely subsistence in Ekiti but agriculture is a totally different ball game. We believe that we can revive our farm settlements as we are currently doing to achieve that purpose. We also have a state of solid minerals that have been largely unexploited too, which we have to pay attention to as well as tourism. But our biggest opportunity outside of agriculture is our literate population. How to convert that into revenue generating possibilities remains something that is of interest to us, particularly in information technology and outsourcing. That is one thing that Ekiti is very interested in.

We always talk about true federalism. But we tend to look at only the state and federal government while the local government is neglected. More or less, we have a situation where the governors interfere in the affairs of local government. What is the situation in Ekiti, and if you were to propose, what will be the status of local government in Nigeria?

To the best of my knowledge, local government is not a tier of government in the Nigerian Constitution. Contrary to many of the things peddled in the media, local government is an administrative vehicle that resides within the state. There are two tiers of government in the Nigerian Constitution – the state and the federal. But somehow, through militarism, even though local government is not a tier, you have local government listed in the Constitution. I think this is a contradiction.

We need to make up our mind whether it is a three-tier structure or a two-tier structure, because there are all sorts of things going on that we must be careful about. I am very opposed to local government becoming a tier of government because I don't think it enhances development in any serious way. But as an administration vehicle vested with some power to deliver on behalf of the people, there is nothing wrong with that.

You can as well vest the same power in communities. There have been suggestions that the communities should be given some resources to direct the affairs of their people, and they will utilize the resources better because they are going to take ownership of the resources. What we have seen is that even as we argue for decentralization to local authorities, you can also decentralize other bad things with it. And we almost always do that. I think we need a creative mechanism to ensure that development gets to the people. But whether it is by making the local government a tier of government, I am not sure that is the most effective way of allowing that to happen.

The people advocating this are also those who are uncomfortable with state/local government relationship, who think they can subvert state/local government relations and move into local government directly for political purposes, particularly promoters of the new constitution in the federal government. They want direct access to the local government and I don't see how they can do that with the current position of the Nigerian Constitution.

On your other point about whether we muzzle local government in Ekiti State, I say no. There is no basis for muzzling local government in the state, except you regard working together on developmental issues as muzzling. I don't think that is what you are saying. We don't corner resources of local government. They spend their resources themselves. On certain issues, we have joint responsibilities such as in healthcare at the primary healthcare level and primary school administration. But the resources of local government is not to appropriate. As a matter of fact, more often than not we put in more money.

In Ekiti, for example, we decided that every local government must construct five-kilometre of roads and that is 92 kilometres. If that is spread across every nook and cranny of the local government, the rural people will feel particularly glad. But we know that local government will not do it of their own volition. So we are monitoring that and also putting our money on the project without just saying they should go and construct the road themselves. I think it is understanding that is required.

Of course, it is easier if the party at the state level is the same party at the local government level. But even where parties are not the same, development shouldn't really have party colours. It should be about making a difference in the lives of our people and I think my own position on it is that we should leave our Constitution the way it is, as a two-tier structure. But we should devolve administration as much as possible to the lower end of the community in order for us to have effective government.

You talked about South West regional agenda. Can we have an insight into what you are planning? Secondly, the Senate just gave notice of its intention to amend the Constitution again. What are your thoughts on this?

Because we used to be cohesive in the past that is why people are paying attention to what is happening now. The thrust of our regional agenda is about three things, if I can summarize it. One is the restoration of core values. There are ties that bind us from Lagos to Delta in those days, and we believe that is possible for a purely developmental angle to bring about a resurgence of those ties in agriculture, infrastructure, education and other areas.

If it is Ondo that has best practices in tackling maternal mortility through its Abiye programme, why can't the rest of us look at that as a model and get a training package that can be replicated? Because this is a problem that is common to us in the South West. If it is Lagos that has done well in beautification and infrastructure, can't we replicate that? That is what has been happening. LAWMA (Lagos State Waste Management Authority) sent people to us in Ekiti to train folks. They sent people to Osun and Oyo. Over the flood, we are also did. But we need a framework for making this happen.

At the last meeting of the governors, we decided on setting up a technical committee of experts to look at the total ramification of the regional integration agenda. At first, the challenges that we were facing, which are common with any regional integration plan, are how far do we go? There are those who are very passionate.

One of our governors is totally committed to a united Western Nigeria agenda; that all of us should submit ourselves and even have our own constitution and do things in tandem. There are those who argue more for a loose cooperation and collaborative mechanism that still allows us to be who we are in our states, but subjects us to common framework more in terms of policies and regulatory framework than actual implementation, except in two areas.

We are all committed to doing something about the Lagos-Ibadan Road. We plan to visit the President on that particular road that has become an embarrassment not just to the South West but the entire country. And also to revive our rail agenda

Don't forget there is a concession…
I don't want to go into that. We are not unaware of the concession. But I am sure that in every concession, there are also caveats as to what happens if the result is not being met within the framework of the agreement. We hope the concessionaire will do the work, but people are not waiting. They don't even want to know whether there is concession or not. They just want a road that functions effectively.

The other is to revive the old ideas that our seniors had when they were in AD (Alliance for Democracy), of a rail line from Lagos to Warri, connecting the two ports. That is a bigger agenda.

But when you ask about constitution amendment, that is one of the areas we are very particular about, because these are things that have been placed in the exclusive list that we believe should not be there. Transportation should be in the concurrent list. Anybody who can raise the money should be able to do whatever he wants to do in terms of road infrastructure, rail infrastructure particularly. We believe this is one thing that will come up strongly in the constitution amendment programme.

There are other things that we have views about; that I have views about. I don't believe in a six-year tenure. My take is that there is no way you are going to change the do-or-die political mentality by tenure. What will change it is our attitude to clean and credible election, both national and within political parties. People will continue to play do-or-die politics if they feel that might is still right; that you can buy your way through; that the courts can help insert you in office.

If you don't tackle those problems responsible for electoral malfeasance in our country, you can give somebody one-year single term, they will still kill themselves over it. It is because public office is too attractive in Nigeria. We have to do something about it. I hope the constitution amendment instead of talking of six-year term will talk about other things associated with public office.

For example, the permanent nature of many of these positions. If you have a parliamentary system, which is what some of us subscribe to, the man who is minister will also be the man who is the constituency honourable member for whichever constituency that he is representing.

I am not saying that it is not great to have technocrats in government. Any technocrat that is interested in politics will then go and run for public office and give his people the benefits of his expertise and experience. If you don't want to do that, then you become a special adviser or a technical person in government. I think if our constitution can address that and change this presidential system, that I consider very expensive into a parliamentary system, it will be a lot cheaper for us to run.

If there is internal democracy in the political party system, then the primaries process or selection process will produce people that will not result in controversial outcome. It will also lead to elections that will be cleaner. That is why the number of people challenging the elections in 2011 are fewer than the number that challenged the elections of 2007.

I think we need a restructuring agenda that devolves power a lot more to the states, because that actually is where some of the responsibilities lie. When you talk of minimum wage, how many people does the federal government pay? That is why that should be on the concurrent list. Minimum wage should not be an exclusive list matter.

In these days of Boko Haram, security should be in the concurrent list. It should not be an exclusive list matter. Yes, we are all called chief security officers, but we have no power over the Commissioner of Police or the Director of the SSS. Out of respect, they may listen to us, but they take instructions from a totally different quarter. If that instruction coheres with what you are saying, they will do it. If it doesn't, it is the one from outside that will carry the day. Yet when you talk of security, it is those who live in the community who really understand the security challenges. Many of these things really have to be devolved, if we are to run a much more accountable, transparent and robust democracy, which is not what the case is at the moment.

You said you didn't support Fayose's bid for the Senate because he is not a member of your party. In the last election, ACN swept the South West. But in the presidential election, you did not vote for the candidate of your party, Nuhu Ribadu. Instead you voted for the PDP candidate. Why was it so?

We cannot play God in the ACN or in any other party. I know how much I did. It was 51:48 that Jonathan had against our candidate in Ekiti. But it was for lack of trying.

There are places I went to. We have a huge Igbo community in Ekiti. They even have a church, their own Catholic church. I recall in that election I had to go to them to beg and talk to them. And they made it clear to me that they had made up their mind. My own election, House of Assembly, Senate, we shouldn't worry because our own was postponed, if you recall. So, all our senatorial and assembly election took place one day and the presidential on another day. They said look we are not going to vote for your man in the presidential. But we will vote for you in all the other elections.

What about the issue of internally generated revenue and setting examination for principals in Ekiti?

IGR is a big issues for us. The approach we have taken is to be creative about it and we are making significant improvement. When we came in, the IGR was one of the lowest in the country; about a hundred million naira. We have hit the two hundred million mark and we believe we can hit a billion soon. That is still not enough. Twelve billion naira in a year as IGR is really not much. Lagos makes more than that in a month. But, of course, Lagos is 15 million and we are 2 million in population.

But there are areas we have abandoned over the years that we really have to return to. If we must make significant dent on poverty, we need to return to agriculture as business not as farming that used to be the case in Ekiti. That is the core of the work we are doing now.

We have also not shied away from precedence. The things that stand in Ekiti today, that are earning Ekiti money in terms of infrastructure were the projects put in place by former Governor Niyi Adebayo with the N4billion bond that he took in 2000. These include the Ekiti House in Abuja that Adebayo built; the properties on Victoria Island and the Fountain Hotel in Ado Ekiti. The roads that are still enduring were also constructed with the bond. So, we went to the capital market, and the thinking that is coming out of it is actually that it is supported very well. I just spoke to managers of the bond initiative on my way here. It is not unlikely that we may be over-subscribed in the N25 biillion that we have gone to raise in the capital market, but purely for regenerative projects.

I have said that I am not going to borrow one naira to pay minimum wage. We are going to use this for agric initiatives, for our tourism initiative. We are back in Ikogosi doing a lot of work. It was abandoned for a long time. For the roads and solid minerals I mentioned earlier, we are setting up an investment holding company to really help push the resources that is going to come in with the bond. That is one way of tackling the problem.

The other is my relationship with development partners. In my previous life, I was actively involved with virtually all the development partners in this country as a consultant – the World Bank, DFID, European Union, and they are all back in Ekiti working with us. It is easy to say where will you get the money or he is just on a propaganda mission. What I will like to say is let us wait and see.

Why did I subject principals to examination? We had an education summit six months ago. Everybody knows Ekiti as the land of professors and intellectuals. I don't know the extent to which that is true today. We have an aging professorial proportion. The ones that have replaced them are not at home. At least the bulk of them are abroad doing very well. Our own university, you know the story, is not what I feel university ought to be. And that is what informed some of the things we have done there, including the merger of the three universities, which is not exactly the most politically-wise thing for any politician to do, because when communities lose things you get into trouble with them.

One of the things the summit also decided was the merger of this artificial divides between junior secondary schools and senior secondary schools. In my own old school, which happens to be the oldest in the state, one of the oldest in the old Western Region - Christ College, Ado-Ekiti – we had four principals in one school. You needed to see the kind of quarrels that the principals were engaged in to the detriment of the students. So we decided that we were not going to go on with this artificial separation. In any way, if it is a federal government policy, why is it that Federal Government colleges are not separated. We discussed it with the Minister of Education. She replied and said they too don't understand these things and they will recommend what I'm doing to other states.

I have incurred the wrath of teachers because they are very powerful in Ekiti. But hopefully when they see the result in a year or two they will change their mind. We are not going to reduce your salary if you are a level 15 or 16 person and you are a principal and we brought you to another school to be vice principal in another school. It doesn't change your salary. It only changes your status. We have to back that up with other incentives that we think will not make them suffer any loss of status. That is what informed what we did.

It is not just for teachers. When I came in we did the same thing for civil servants. Ekiti was the first state that chose its head of service through an examination. I asked the senior permanent secretaries to take an examination set by Professor Ladipo Ajamole of the World Bank, and the person who can first become the Head of Service. It was not a political choice. After that we subjected the permanent secretaries to the same examination. Those who did not pass we asked them to leave.