Shortly after former president Olusegun Obasanjo’s reelection in 2003 and the hurricane he unleashed to unseat all but one Alliance for Democracy (AD) governors, he dispatched Mukhtari Shagari, whom he’d asked to continue his duties as Water Resources Minister (though a Federal Executive Council was yet to be named) to Ekiti State to meet with the newly elected governor, Ayo Fayose.
Though a few new roads had been teased out of the rusty town and a few more modern buildings had sprung up, the Ado Ekiti I saw was not much different from the Ado Ekiti I first saw in 1996, when Gen Sani Abacha created the state and posted Col Mohammed Inuwa Bawa as its first military administrator. However, in 2003, there was an air of excitement and expectation in town, as the youthful and apparently popular Fayose had just emerged as governor.
Once we reached the Ado Ekiti Government House and were led into the governor’s office, I noticed a tall, slim young man in shirts and trousers holding the door and ushering us in. I assumed he was a protocol officer and nodded as I walked past him.
However, that impression was immediately corrected when, after seeing that we were all seated, the young man went over to the coat-hanger behind the governor’s desk, put on the jacket hanging on it and then sat on the governor’s seat! That was my introduction to Ayodele Peter Fayose, the then, as now, newly elected governor of Ekiti State.
Of a more recent vintage, I also met Governor Kayode Fayemi in Abuja, and was just as enthralled by his simplicity and down to earth nature. The Fayose I met in 2003 was barely a month into his new job as governor, and was probably not yet used to the powers, privileges and paraphernalia of office that usually shuts out reality for public office holders. On the other hand, the Fayemi I met had been on the job for three years, but still had the personality, carriage, diction and manners of a highly polished being. Both were interesting men in their own ways.
It was therefore interesting to watch them slug it out as they campaigned for votes in Ekiti State – supposedly one of Nigeria’s most cerebral. The outcome of the Ekiti election has had many observers scratching their heads and just as many political scientists and sociologists seeking explanations for the defeat by ‘area boy’ Fayose of the professorial Fayemi. A crude summation of one prevailing view is that that the voters’ desire for immediate gratification thumped the need for long term development.
For what it may be worth, the two candidates had very different approaches to the contest, based on their reading of the electoral barometer. Some observers concede that Fayemi was rejected not because he didn’t perform in office – the numerous critical infrastructures he has built across the state capital and other parts of the state are testimony to that – but because he seemed too gentlemanly for our kind of politics. Others argue that he’d assumed that his good performance would speak for him, and therefore didn’t campaign effectively enough.
Still, others are of the view that Fayemi, purely on principle, wasn’t ready to commit huge resources – expectedly from the relatively poor state – to the campaign, unlike the PDP which approached the election like war. They argue, with some justification, that billions was naira was released to grease whatever – and whoever – needed to the greased. Rice, cash and other items were openly distributed by the PDP in what INEC, as usual says were free and fair elections.
But what is the definition of ‘free and fair’?
That opposition supporters, including governors, were harassed and their constitutional rights violated? The ruling party agents went about with, and distributed untold quantities of cash? That security agents were clearly partisan and that their presence intimidated large swathes of the electorate? Or that out of a total number of 733, 766 registered voters in Ekiti, only 369, 257 were accredited and 306, 455 cast, meaning that half of the voters in Ekiti, for one reason or another, did not vote?
Though Governor Fayemi, acting with great statesmanship quickly accepted the results to forestall the bloodbath desperate politicians and their hand-in-gloves security agencies were ready to provoke, the outcome from Ekiti shows that the All Progressives Congress (APC) has much work to do to stop the various ways federal might is used to bludgeon the opposition before, during and after elections. It must also move beyond the fractious congresses and mobilize its supporters, especially youths as foot-soldiers, just as the process of selecting its flag-bearers must be tactically managed.
In the meantime though, the lesson from Ekiti is that as Nigerians, we are yet to learn our lessons: When people put ‘stomach infrastructure’ before social infrastructure, the price for this immediate gratification is corruption, long term poverty and unending underdevelopment.